Saturday , June 15 2024

Music Review: Debbie Gibson — Electric Youth (Deluxe Edition)

For more than half a century, every musical era has had its share of teen pop singers. When Debbie Gibson landed on the scene in the late 1980s, however, she set a new precedent by acting as the sole songwriter—and a key producer—of her albums. Simultaneously, she established herself as a consistent hitmaker with staying power beyond one or two big records.

Gibson’s 1987 debut, Out of the Blue, scored four top-10 hits, including the #1 “Foolish Beat.” With the exception of that single, the majority of material was catchy, uptempo dance-pop fare bearing lovelorn lyrics with a sophisticated edge. Undoubtedly, the success of “Foolish Beat” (produced by Gibson) led to a more mature purview on 1989’s follow-up LP, Electric Youth. Both albums were recently reissued in deluxe CD/DVD sets featuring the original track-listings supplemented with remixes and non-album cuts along with corresponding music videos and live performances.

The Electric Youth deluxe edition reissue comprises 37 audio tracks and 14 video chapters. Gibson produced half of the album’s cuts, including the first single, “Lost in Your Eyes.” Perhaps the most defining moment in a career now spanning three-and-a-half decades, the sentimental ballad showcased not only her growing vocal abilities, but also her adept piano playing (a staple of her live shows). Although she had contributed keyboards and programming to several tracks on Out of the Blue, Electric Youth found her playing acoustic piano or keyboards on five selections. The romantic appeal of “Lost in Your Eyes” was expressed in a way that both teenage and adult contemporary audiences found relatable. It became her second #1 pop hit, also reaching #3 on Billboard’s A/C chart, in the winter of 1989.

The most famous version of “Lost in Your Eyes” is the album take, replete with classic ‘80s electric guitar; but the simpler “Piano & Vocal Mix “is also included here. Similarly, an acoustic mix of the other hit ballad from Electric Youth, “No More Rhyme,” makes an appearance. On this mix of the Fred Zarr-produced single, the pared-down effect is not as striking as on the acoustic “Lost in Your Eyes.” Still, “No More Rhyme” makes for a moving contrast, pairing soothing melodies with melancholy lyrics.

“No More Rhyme” just missed the top 10, and Gibson’s chart presence in the States started to wane a bit afterwards. Before that turn of events, though, the title track struck gold. Still strongly tied to her legacy, “Electric Youth” (also produced by Zarr) reignited the dance-pop spark of Out of the Blue hits with a bit more soul and club-savvy. The result was a soundscape true to the song’s title and well-suited to its optimistic and aspirational lyrics. It’s Gibson at her vocal best, full of zest and completely immersed in the groove.

Most of the non-single cuts from Electric Youth foreshadowed the stylistic direction that Gibson would explore further in the mid-‘90s. With an underlying charm frequently inspired by ‘60s pop and rock melodic structures, the songs explore the how and why and ups and downs of relationships beyond the innocence of earlier hits “Only in My Dreams,” “Shake Your Love,” and “Out of the Blue.” Whether it be the upbeat “Love in Disguise” or the groove-ballad “Shades of the Past,” the tunes display Gibson’s early understanding of the sadness that often comes along with navigating young love.

Maybe the most overlooked gem on Electric Youth is the atmospheric “Over the Wall,” which blends the harmonic feel of “Foolish Beat” with the rhythmic prowess of “Out of the Blue” in a reflective yet assured context. Likewise, the album’s final single, “We Could Be Together,” is significant in showcasing Gibson’s fluidity as a youthful messenger with a perspective beyond her years. The only entry that falls a bit flat is “Should’ve Been the One,” with an arrangement more derivative than inspired.

Two-plus discs’ worth of bonus audio are a definite draw of the reissue. The acoustic mix of the oft-forgotten ballad “Silence Speaks (A Thousand Words)” and dub version of “Over the Wall” are fun to revel in, taking different pieces of the album mixes and rearranging them to highlight Gibson’s vocals. Furthermore, the Japan-only release, “Without You” (penned with songwriter Tatsuro Yamashita and produced by Andrew Zulla), is a charming number which marked the start of Gibson’s writing collaborations.

Meanwhile, a handful of alternate mixes of “We Could Be Together” make for a diversified listening experience. The house mix manages to retain the essence of the original while completely revamping the rhythmic frame. The concert version will serve as an enjoyable reminder of Gibson’s live prowess—especially for those who attended one of her “Electric Youth” concerts back in ’89. Also of note, her two contributions to the soundtrack for the TV series The Wonder Years are featured.

It’s the slew of remixes of “Electric Youth,” though, that give this deluxe edition dance credibility in keeping with the stylistic trends of the time. 10 versions appear, ranging from the aptly titled “Electro Mix” and “Electric Dub Gone Haywire” to a Latin freestyle edit and additional dubs and bonus beats. Shep Pettibone’s “Deep House Mix” takes the cake. Enveloping Gibson’s vocal with keyboard layers that enhance the chords over pumped-up drum programming, the mix is of its time and has stood the test of time.

The DVD makes for an engaging trip down memory lane. Each of the four promo clips stand on their own, with the colorfully choreographed “Electric Youth,” group camaraderie of “We Could Be Together,” simplicity of “Lost in Your Eyes” and moodiness of “No More Rhyme” serving as meaningful manifestations of the music. The concert collection, “Live Around the World” (originally released on VHS in 1990), showcases Gibson on a variety of dates from the “Electric Youth” tour performing seven songs from the album and a few other tunes.

While Electric Youth might not have had the staying power of Out of the Blue, it solidified Gibson’s talent as an assured songwriter-singer-producer with a long-term vision. This deluxe CD/DVD set gives longtime fans a chance to revisit an influential album in a delightfully thorough fashion while allowing new listeners the opportunity to understand the start of artistic growth which Gibson continues to explore in the 2020s. The accompanying booklet, featuring her commentary on the LP’s original 11 tracks, is icing on the cake.

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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