Wednesday, 1 April 2009

1983 Bonnie Tyler: Total Eclipse Of The Heart

Though Tyler had already enjoyed no small success during the mid seventies, by 1979 she'd dropped off the chart radar before (well let's be honest)....unexpectedly...storming the barricades with 'Total Eclipse Of The Heart', her first (and last) number one. And being (as it is) a Jim Steinman track, 'storming' is a very apt adjective; 'Total Eclipse' is a prime example of Steinman's self created genre of 'Wagnerian Rock'. That is, music with pop sensibilities turned up to 11 and garnished with a generous topping of sturm and drang, the same recipe that had previosly made Meat Loaf an (well let's be honest)

So what does all that mean in ptactice? Well, after starting low key with a simple piano introduction, 'Total Eclipse' soon gathers the unstoppable momentum of a lorry with a slipped handbrake running backwards down a hill as Tyler unloads her tale of love lost with ever increasing hysteria:
"And I need you now tonight. And I need you more than ever. And if you'll only hold me tight. We'll be holding on forever" 

Angsty? Oh yes,
'Total Eclipse' has angst by the lungfull, but whereas Tyler's gravelly tones crunch just fine when she's holding back to let the vulnerability and cracked emotion through (see those "turn around bright eyes" sections), when she rips the lid off and clicks into overwrought overdrive, her strained histrionics sound less like the spurned lover at the end of their rope than a Swansea fishwife on a Saturday night alcopops bender: "I don't know what to do and I'm always in the dark. We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks" - I can almost picture one of the backing singers  wrapping an arm around her shoulder and whispering a 'Forget 'im Bonnie luv, e's not worf it, let's get some chips".

A vocalist with rockier chops would have ridden this like Boudicca in her chariot to rip every last ounce of guts out of it with spinning blades, but Tyler ultimately winds up dwarfed by the enormity Steinman's vision, leaving her struggling to stamp her own identity over the scale, the production, the whammy whammy guitar and the drums/
1812 Overture cannons amplified to ear bleed at the bridge. And yet for all the bluster, Steinman's Janus-like approach means his other, non bombastic ear is continuously tuned to the straight pop backbone that was buried under Phil Spector's 'wall of sound', rendering 'Total Eclipse' something of a halfway house. It's too much of a melodic ballad to be a balls out rocker, yet it's too loud to be enjoyed in life's more contemplative moments meaning 'Total Eclipse' comes and goes like a tornado on the horizon - an impressive spectacle of force in it's own right, but one that you're not too sorry to safely see the back of.

No comments:

Post a Comment