Monday , June 24 2024

Music Review: Belinda Carlisle – ‘Belinda’ (Expanded Vinyl Reissue)

When Belinda Carlisle left trailblazing female pop band The Go-Go’s in 1985, she had a strong catalog of hits boasting her signature vocal style to fuel her new endeavors as a solo artist. While bandmate Jane Wiedlin traveled a path closer in style to the group’s for her first LP post-break-up, Carlisle teamed with fellow member Charlotte Caffey and veteran pop producer Michael Lloyd for a sound that was decidedly more mainstream-minded, while also influenced by melodic and arranging qualities of ‘60s and ‘70s rock and soul.  

Although 1986’s Belinda didn’t produce a string of hits like her subsequent albums would, the well-rounded collection set the tone for Carlisle’s second incarnation with the summery, driving “Mad About You.” It’s hard to believe that 35 years have passed since she struck gold and cracked the top five in the U.S. and Canada with the blissful tune, but it’s that occasion which has prompted UK-based Demon Records to issue an expanded two-record edition of the album. Supplementing the original tracklisting with several alternate single mixes, a soundtrack entry, and five numbers from a concert at which she debuted the album, the reissue is a sleekly assembled package highlighted by top-tier mastering and a gatefold presentation with additional photos and extensive liner notes.

Listening to Belinda three decades on, the repertoire has held up considerably better than some of Carlisle’s contemporaries’ recordings from the time. Lloyd’s arrangements evoke an energy fitting her vibrance, while not distracting from it with heavy embellishments. This is evidenced on numbers ranging from the snappy, girl group-esque “I Need a Disguise” (co-written by The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs) to the simultaneously fiery and morose “Since You’ve Gone,” co-penned by Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham. The latter was released only as a promotional single, but is a key track showcasing Carlisle’s ability to belt it out and be dramatic when necessary. Her live performance contained on side four’s bonus tracks from a 1986 gig at The Roxy is testament to her determination to carve out a niche of her own after leaving The Go-Go’s at their commercial pinnacle. 

The follow-up singles to “Mad about You” weren’t necessarily the strongest representations of Belinda’s nucleus. While the ‘60s-inspired “I Feel the Magic” and a rendition of Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold” are both pleasant, they’re not as striking as the riveting “Gotta Get to You” or wickedly catchy “Shot in the Dark.” Payne, however, came into the studio to add vocals for the single release of “Band of Gold,” several mixes of which are included on side three of the reissue. Her sassy presence provides a nice counterpoint to Carlisle’s mellower delivery. 

Side three of the reissue also contains one of Carlisle’s most underrated singles, “Dancing in the City.” Featured on the soundtrack to the 1987 Whoopi Goldberg flick Burglar, the Bernard Edwards-produced romp finds Carlisle in feisty form, gliding confidently over a powerfully kinetic groove. A similar enthusiasm is apparent on the tracks comprising side four, which includes her live renditions of Go-Go’s classics “Lust to Love” and “Head over Heels,” as well as “Mad about You” and “Shot in the Dark.” These performances were originally released on a VHS cassette (also entitled Belinda) in 1986 – and later on the bonus DVD to a 2014 CD reissue of the LP. The only song from the album which was not included on the setlist is the closing number, a remake of Split Enz’s 1979 ballad, “Stuff and Nonsense.” Although her vocal treatment isn’t quite as emotive as Tim Finn’s original, she takes a fittingly subtle and pensive approach, which is gently complemented by a glowing Sid Sharp string section and poignant trumpet solo by John Rosenberg.

Demon’s two-LP reissue of Belinda is a well-warranted and appealingly presented edition of an often overlooked chapter from Carlisle’s solo career. Beyond “Mad about You,” the material showcases a unique vocalist finding ways to express herself beyond the parameters of the band which brought her initial fame. The addition of highlights from her first solo concert and several tracks and mixes not originally on the album make the reissue a richly fulfilling listen which warrants frequent revisiting. A special pink vinyl pressing from Amazon UK adds to the allure and classiness of the affair.

About Justin Kantor

Justin Kantor is a music journalist with a passion for in-depth artist interviews and reviews. Most of his interviews for Blogcritics can be heard on his Blog Talk Radio program, "Rhythmic Talk." Justin's work has been published in Wax Poetics, The All-Music Guide, and A graduate of Berklee College of Music's Music Business and Management program, he honed his writing chops as a teenager—publishing "The Hip Key" magazine from 1992-1996. The publication, which was created out of his childhood home in Virginia Beach, reached a circulation of 10,000 by the time he was 16. At Berklee, Justin continued to perfect his craft with a series of 'Underrated Soul' features for The Groove from 1997-2003. This led to a companion TV show on Manhattan Neighborhood Network in 2002, as well as writing for the national Dance Music Authority (DMA). A self-described "obscure pop, dance, and R&B junkie," Justin also has penned liner notes for reissue labels such as Edsel Records and FunkyTownGrooves. He's excited to be a part of the BlogCritics team and indulge his musical fancies even further. Connect with him at his Facebook page, or via [email protected].

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