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Old 08-22-2011, 04:13 PM   #167 (permalink)
Trollheart
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Electric youth --- Debbie Gibson --- 1989 (Atlantic)


One look at Debbie Gibson instantly consigned her to the Madonna-wannabes and copycats, lumping her in with the likes of Tiffany, Billie, Sabrina and a whole slew of young ladies with only one name, all playing the same vacuous pop songs intended for the charts. But conventional wisdom was wrong, and Debbie Gibson was much more a serious artist than any of the abovenamed (excepting, perhaps, Madonna herself). She was not particularly looking for a quick hit (though she got one) and then content to live off the proceeds and fame of that. She was a dedicated musician who not only wrote and produced her own compositions (a feat unrivalled and unthought of at the time), but played piano and keyboards in addition to singing. A real rarity at the time.

Her first album, 1987's “Out of the blue”, had sold very well and yielded no less than five singles, some of which had become hits. The follow-up was eagerly anticipated, and indeed, it's a rare thing when a second album is better than the first, but this was certainly the case with “Electric youth.” Having already hit the charts with a broadside, Debbie was ready for more serious songs, and the tracks on this album bear that out, for the most part.

Truth be told, it doesn't start off in a very promising manner, with the throwaway pop ditty “Who loves ya baby?”, but any fears that this is going to be a continuation of “Out of the blue” are blown out of the water when “Lost in your eyes”, her biggest ever single, hits. It's a powerful yet restrained ballad, with an excellent piano line and Debbie on top form as she sings of her lover. I always think the opening lines make her sound like she's telling her man to go away, her American accent making “I” sound like “Ah”, so you get ”Ah get lost”! Jokes aside though, this is a tremendously tender ballad, and in many ways it's hard to believe that the previous bubblegum track has come from the same artist.

It's quite amazing to think that this girl (nineteen at the time!) could write --- and produce --- songs of this calibre. Her voice is sultry and yearning, and her piano playing flawless. Digital piano could have reduced this song to the level of sugary sweet, but it's used only sparingly, the result being really one of the classic love songs of the late nineteen-eighties.

It's followed by another bopper, but there is some substance to it this time. “Love in disguise” is no “Only in my dreams” or even “Out of the blue”, but it's not a bad little track. Debbie sounds a little like Susannah Hoffs from the Bangles on this one, I feel. Good use of jangly guitar helps this track along, then we're into “Helplessly in love”, a far superior song. There's just something more mature about this, and I feel it would have been a great single, but they passed it over. Pity. It has a real sense of “Only in my dreams” about it too. I really like the melody on this, and in fact the bass helps drive the song very well.

There are three ballads on the album, and they're all excellent. “Silence speaks (a thousand words)” shows how much, and how quickly, Debbie has grown up since her debut album. With its almost medieval keyboard intro and a flute solo --- no kidding! --- the song is well constructed and far from being a typical teen love ballad, it has real heart. It's almost not a ballad, in fact, as the tempo is a little faster than you would expect, but it's certainly an introspective and mature song.

The title track is out-and-out pop, with stabbing, sampler keyboard and drum machines, and a message that really gets a little lost in the frankly sub-standard track, but it's soon forgotten when the final ballad, “No more rhyme” gets going. Much in the same lyrical vein as “Silence speaks”, this is a sad ballad, unlike “Lost in your eyes”, which celebrated love: this song considers what happens when the love is gone, or as she sings herself, ”What happens when there's no more rhyme?” It's a close thing for me as to whether “Lost in your eyes” is better than this one, and to be honest I've never made my mind up, as they're both excellent ballads. This carries more of the acoustic guitar and keyboard, with a lot of digital piano, but it works very well. Lovely melody, and sung with heartbreaking honesty by Debbie. ”You can find your place/ But never fit in/ Only when you've left. Do you know where you've been/ I can see the light/ But only when it's dawn/ You can go on waiting/ But only for so long.” Deep lyric indeed, and carried off with a maturity and class that belies her nineteen years. Lovely sax solo from Jeff Smith, along with cello by Bob Osman give the song a real melancholy tone.

“Over the wall” is pure soul funk, good brass from the Cadillac Horns, but it's “We could be together” that gets my vote for best track on the album. A fast, poppy song, it has all the elements needed to make it a great single, and indeed it was released, though it did more poorly than anticipated. Great synthy keyboards, boppy drumming, brass and some great backing vocals melded to a melody that just plays over and over in your head as Debbie sings ”I'll push his love far away from me/ And then I'll be completely free/ I'll give up my security/ For just the possibility/ That we could be together/ For a while.” It's a desperate song of hope for an affair we all know will never work out, but Debbie's enthusiasm on the song is so infectious you tend to ignore the obvious outcome.

Would have been a great closer to the album, but there's one more track to go, and “Shades of the past” is not half bad, to be fair. It's a sort of soul half-ballad with a kind of ominous tone to it. I personally find the melody a little off, and in places it puts me in mind of the likes of Judie Tzuke, though much inferior to her. It's a pity that they close this song to close the album, as this is inevitably the one your mind is left singing as you put the album away, when “We could be together” leaves so much a better impression.

All in all though, this is one album that may very well surprise you. If you approach “Electric youth” expecting weak, pointless pop songs with the emotion produced out of them, you'll be interested to hear that while I would in no way suggest this to be rock in any form, it's very acceptable pop and really listenable music, and for a nineteen-year old who was making only her second album, that's something you really have to applaud.

TRACKLISTING

1. Who loves ya baby?
2. Lost in your eyes
3. Love in disguise
4. Helplessly in love
5. Silence speaks (a thousand words)
6. Should've been the one
7. Electric youth
8. No more rhyme
9. Over the wall
10. We could be together
11. Shades of the past

Suggested further listening: “Out of the blue” has its moments, though it's a lot poppier and less mature than this album.
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