Change is a dirty word in this business. A successful formula is something neither agents or fans want to see altered.
In the case of creative artists (those who write and even produce themselves) change is the key to existence. If the creative forces in music simply maintain their winning formulas for the sake of the record companies or the fans, then they will probably stagnate. And stagnation means death.
Melanie, whether you love her or loathe her, has always been a mystery in the eyes of many. In her early days with Buddah, she earned her musical reputation as a kookie kid - the musical Shirley McClaine, if you will. She performed at Woodstock and unlike any other writer who composed a tune about the muddy three days, Melanie's "Candles In The Rain" captured the sentiments of an entire generation of lost kids.
They formed her cult, a phenomenon in its own way because it just shows you how directly she communicated with thousands, world-wide.
To a great deal of the music press she remained the sugar sweet kid that sounded like a warbling Edith Piaf. Melanie's fans were all the rejects, black sheep and outsiders who always felt awkward. If the truth is painful, then in music we respected John Lennon for his honesty - from a distance, but squirmed with Melanie, because the songs she wrote were too close to home.
Several years ago the World discovered Melanie through songs that were hits for other people, like the New Seekers. They were bouncy and bubbly enough, so that even the exasperated "Look What They've Done To My Song, Ma?" sounded like "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep". Melanie's cult just smiled. The public couldn't handle the original too intense.
Then "Brand New Key" broke, and Melanie became the first Sigmund Freud (Eds note.. head shrinker) of the bubble-gum cult.
With the long awaited advent of Melanie's commercial success, the public began to crystallise their image of her. When an artist is playing a role, like Alvin Stardust or a Gary Glitter, then it is merely shedding a costume that will return them to their real selves. But artists who are basically being themselves, are forced; by public demand, to do imitations of themselves, and that imitation eventually becomes a parody. Follow?
With Melanie, not only did she find herself playing a role but so did her audiences. At her annual birthday concert, this year sold out at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, the fans climbed through the aisles, yelled out requests while the singer performed and finally broke even Melanie's concentration.
"It's just not the time anymore"
she said, asking the crowd to return to their seats.
Melanie's changed. And 1974 is the year that Melanie Safka may finally emerge as an adult. She would like to see herself compared with the other influential female artists. And why not? Not only is she as perceptive in her lyrics as Carole King or Carly Simon, she's the only one of the three who isn't afraid to deal with the people directly.
Before the year is out, Melanie, her guitar, baby daughter and a band will hit 25 American cities and remind them what their emotions are.
To listen to "Madrugada" the new Melanie album (released in a fortnight on Neighbourhood Records) one must think of Melanie as an albums artist, not a pop singles composer.
This LP says as much as Joni Mitchell's delightful "Court and Spark" and Carly Simon's easy going "Hotcakes".
While Mitchell, Simon and even King have remained consistent in the distinctive sounds of their respective voices, Melanie's has matured. If you were once put off by the squeaking (Melanie and Diana Ross used to send me up the walls years ago) then this is the album to listen to.
"Madrugada" is Portuguese for daybreak, and the general feel by Melanie's standard is overwhelming optimism.
Joni Mitchell seems to accept that life is the way it is, Carly Simon sounds fairly content, but in "Madrugada" Melanie sounds determined to handle whatever's coming.
Side one opens with what should be the next single, "Love To Lose Again", it's an upbeat tune with a strong percussion backing.
"We think too much of loving and we lose more than we win but we're bound to live again."
If you've just faced up to the fact that he don't feel for you, play this song six times. It's a strength renewer.
"Lover's Cross" is one of Jim Croce's most brilliant songs,
"It seems you wanted a martyr, just a regular girl wouldn't do baby, I can't hang upon a lover's cross for you."
This album features more orchestration than any of Melanie's previous albums, and it does suit the lady. The orchestra stays in the back, where it belongs, with the sole exception of one runaway violin in "Wild Horses" which almost steals the song away from the singer. Even if you feel cover versions of the Stone's are sacrilegious, this one deserves your attention.
Melanie also tackles an old Woody Guthrie tune, "Pretty Boy Floyd" ( a well known American outlaw). Randy Newman's "I think It's Going To Rain Today" and Goffin and King's "Will You Love Me Tomorrow". Of all the outstanding female talents of the last five years, Melanie, Lauro Nyro, and now Bonnie Raitt, are as good at delivering other people's songs as they are their own.
The remaining four songs on side two are original compositions "Maybe Not For A Lifetime, in which the optimist faces the fact that love may not be forever, but for whatever it's worth, that's fine.
And "Holding Out", a late night piano ditty. The last track is a lullaby called "Pine and Feather", but it should be the "Actress", which may well be the most ingenious track of the entire album.
One of the refreshing aspects of this new album is that it hits you on first hearing, which as any record reviewer knows, is rare. Peter Schekeryk's arrangements are flattering and Melanie's richer voice does not fight it at all.
In America this album has enough strong tracks to warrant a lot of air play.
There is joy in "Love To Lose Again", painful reality in "Lover's Cross" and almost a haunting feel to "The Actress", "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" is everything a good single is about. As to whether British radio can grant the album the same exposure remains to be seen. A little change never hurt anyone.
Record and Radio Mirror - by John Beattie
Sit back and relax to Melanie's most accomplished effort to date. The lady with plenty of guts and a 'liberated' image has finally come to terms with herself and settled down to realize her potential.
This en-track album contains some beautiful lyrics and orchestral arrangement. Instead of trying to play on her image, Melanie has dampened it, maybe her pregnancy had something to do with it. "Pine And Feather" was specially written for her little girl, Leilah. Another track written by her entitled "The Actress" is probably a true reflection of her own lifestyle: to quote one line,
She has also recorded her version of the Stones' "Wild Horses" and "Madrugada" includes her latest single, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" and her forthcoming single "Love To Lose Again".
I get the impression that she has forsaken her personal hang-ups for something more musical and less contemptuous than previous efforts.
Melanie is a special person and everything she does has an attendant air of sensitivity and caring about it and her latest is no exception. A superb version of the Jagger-Richard (sic) composition, 'Wild Horses' highlights the LP with its elaborate string arrangements and Melanie's overwhelmingly powerful vocals. 'Love To Lose Again', 'I Am Being Guided', 'I Think It's Going To Rain Today', and 'Maybe Not For A Lifetime' are masterful tunes capturing Melanie's dramatic ability to work a song into a meaningful communicative experience. Thoroughly enjoyable, we recommend this one.