“Heart of Stone” by Cher

1989 (the year, not the Taylor Swift album) was not, on the whole, a particularly good year for Pop music (indeed, it is generally considered one of the worst years on record), but even a year like that is bound to have a couple of bright spots, and the release of this album was one of the brightest of all. This album is Cher’s second-best-selling of all time (right after her Nineties “comeback” album, Believe), and is generally regarded as her Magnum Opus by her fans. Moreover, it set the sonic template for all of Nineties Adult Contemporary–without this album, for example, Celine Dion’s entire body of work would probably not have existed, at least in the form it wound up taking.

The ‘new sound’ this album pioneers was not really unheard-of at the time: this album simply placed it in a new context. The style was familiar from the Rock ballads sung by the ‘Hair Metal’ bands of the Eighties, but generally these songs were limited to a couple of tracks on albums otherwise composed of standard Hard Rock. What this album did was place an entire album’s worth of Hair Metal ballads on a single, exclusively ballad-focused disc. And it’s worth noting that the kind of albums that had previously focused entirely on Soft Rock ballads had featured a very different, much softer sound that, to be brutally frank, has not aged especially well (think Air Supply or Eighties-era Chicago, for example).

Apart from Cher herself, there were two other artists who were crucial to this album’s innovations. Diane Warren was the premiere author of Easy Listening songs from the late Eighties through the Nineties, and while her assembly-line approach to songwriting meant that she had more than her share of off days, she was always known for doing particularly good work in her collaborations with Cher, from this album to “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” from the movie Burlesque as late as 2010.

Also a prominent contributor to this album’s sound was Desmond Child, the Pop-Rock songwriter and producer best known for being one of the major forces behind Bon Jovi’s output and for being an equally major impetus in Aerosmith’s late-Eighties comeback. Child wrote and produced a significant portion of this album’s material, and his fingerprints are all over it, doing much to explain its prominent Hair Metal influences.

This album produced two of Cher’s all-time classic singles…the anguished “If I Could Turn Back Time” is probably the best-known, but “Just Like Jesse James”, a vaguely Country-influenced ballad presenting romance as a power struggle, is just as compelling. The stoically sorrowful title track was also a minor hit. The album also features two covers of other artists’ songs, though both were still the work of Warren and/or Child. “Love on a Rooftop”, was a single for former Sixties girl-group star Ronnie Spector, while “You Wouldn’t Know Love” was originally one of the better tracks on Michael Bolton’s Soul Provider album earlier in the same year. Of the pure album cuts, perhaps the most memorable is the devastating “Does Anybody Really Fall in Love Anymore?”, which featured a co-writing assist by Jon Bon Jovi himself.

Pretty much the only track that doesn’t feel like it belongs is “After All”, a duet with former Chicago lead singer Peter Cetera. This isn’t too terribly surprising, as it was not actually written for the album…it was an interpolation of the theme song Cher and Cetera recorded for the movie Chances Are. The lyrics, by Fame lyricist Dean Pitchford, are a cut above the usual level of Eighties Soft Rock, but, apart from the obvious fact that Peter Cetera is a lousy singer, the song just doesn’t fit in with the album’s sound. It sounds like something that Cetera would have recorded with Chicago, and represents the old Soft Rock sound of the Eighties that Cher was overtaking rather than the new sound this album was introducing.

Overall, even in a career as long and illustrious as Cher’s, I can definitely see why this is generally regarded as her best album, and it ranks alongside Genesis’ Invisible Touch, Sting’s …Nothing Like the Sun, Bryan Adams’ Reckless, and Billy Joel’s An Innocent Man as one of the finest Soft Rock albums of its decade…not a field with a great deal of competition, true, given the quality of most of that genre in the Eighties, but still a reminder that even in their darkest hours, Easy Listening and Soft Rock can still be legitimate sources of truly great music.

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