Friday, May 29, 2009
REOCRDINGS; Perfect Pop From Tiffany - Seriously
By PETER WATROUS
Published: Sunday, January 8, 1989
Seriousness has hit pop music big. Whether in the high-mindedness of Tracy Chapman or the industrial, mass-produced ditties of Tiffany, seriousness is the flavor of the day.
Tiffany's second album, ''Hold an Old Friend's Hand'' (MCA-6267; all three formats), has her looking longingly and adult-like out from the cover; the lyrics of the songs - none by her, and all about romance, not sex - are printed on the inside cover, as if they were worth scrutinizing like some newly found canto of Ezra Pound. All this for a 17-year-old California kid who has nothing to do with the writing of the music she performs. Nor does she play any instruments. Yet the presentation makes claims; the music is meant seem as if she had created it, as if it were a product of her innermost soul.
We'll be hearing Tiffany on the radio for some time to come, and who wrote or played or conceived her image is irrelevant, since it is the hologram of authorship that counts, along with the melodies and the beats and the textures of the music. ''Hold an Old Friend's Hand'' is flawless pop, easily remembered and repeated melodies that will give high-culturists Orwellian nightmares and the young masses plenty of pleasure.
Tiffany's music is not radically different from any of the mass-produced pop music of the last several decades, but her records have telling details. In their insistence on sobriety and love over ecstasy and lust, they perfectly capture the changed mood of young American culture. It is music so far removed from rock impulses that it could make the claim that the 60's (Tiffany was born in 1972), with all its social experimentation, never existed. The 80's, with shuddering economies and the fear of AIDS, have won out, at least for Tiffany.
''Hold an Old Friend's Hand'' follows in the footsteps of ''Tiffany,'' which sold over four million copies. When it came out in 1987, ''Tiffany'' joined a long list of records by young women singers - Debbie Gibson, Shanice Wilson, Lisa Lisa - who were second-generation versions of Madonna and Cyndi Lauper. But where Madonna and Ms. Lauper made their mark creating their own images and managing their own careers, the second generation is the product of an industry reacting to fill the public's demand for women singers. Record companies set their producers working overtime to fill albums, and where Madonna and Ms. Lauper had an unusual set of icons to represent their personalities, the new crew fumbles along as predictable young-innocents-with-spunk.
There isn't a moment on ''Hold an Old Friend's Hand'' (which is essentially the work of Tiffany's producer, George Tobin) where the needs of the artist conflict with the needs of the record company. They are one and the same, and there isn't even a glint of the traditional tension between an artist's ideas and the record company's need to sell the music. Tiffany (whose last name is Darwisch) isn't at all resistant to the idea of stardom on a record company's terms; she works hard for her money. By 1987 she was singing 20-minute sets to pre-recorded tapes of her first album to audiences at malls across the country. Last year, she instigated a lawsuit to free herself of her mother's control in her business affairs.
In some senses, the record industry is a little like Detroit in its heyday, where the same cars, with a built-in obsolescence factor, were manipulated every year so as to have a different look on the same chassis: tail fins were just made a bit longer or shorter. Tiffany is an updated version of the sentimental pop singer best exemplified by Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, to whom she has obviously listened; she often sounds very much like her.
In true 80's fashion the arrangements of the songs are all referential, and Mr. Tobin's constructs hint at original styles of music. It's institutional, international pop with muted dance music, muted ballads, muted country-pop and muted rock, all calculated to play with listeners' memories and sense of nostalgia.
It's music that projects no more specific sense of place than perhaps the Western world; it seems to have floated in on the ether and taken over. It is the type of music that will be found, if the record company does its job well, in small towns around the world. Teen-agers with no understanding of English will be pining to the sounds of her voice; young men will dream about her in all the languages of the world.
Tiffany's voice also seems referential. It's familiar; there's nothing alienating about her. And like all good singers, Tiffany has learned a score of tricks to show how emotional she is, regardless of the banality of the words - she sounds as if she means what she sings. She'll change her tone, moving from a three-pack-a-day, on-my-last-pint moan to a clear, girlish voice to a gospelish falsetto. Tiffany can sing; the tricks producers use to hide a singer's inabilities - multiple overdubbing, echo - are conspicuously absent.
Which brings us back to seriousness. Tiffany's material isn't simple dance music. It is equally mindless (which doesn't detract from its pleasure), but it has the air of topic to it, even if all the tunes are about love. And though she's singing as an adult there are still clues to which age market the record is aimed. On ''Walk Away While You Can,'' she sings, ''Better walk away while you can . . . you're still a young girl, he's almost a man . . . it feels so right when we're together boy . . . I'd like to give myself to you but I'm so confused.''
It is music made for a young market that increasingly respects a type of obvious seriousness and sentimentality. And underneath the facade of her earnestness, it is music that is meant to sell, music that changes its shape to please the demand. On the terms it sets for itself, it is perfect.
Photo of Tiffany (Janet Macoska/Star File)
A version of this review appeared in print on Sunday, January 8, 1989, on section 2 page 27 of the New York edition.
Posted by Natt at 7:27 AM