Friday , April 12 2024
stacey q

Music Review: Stacey Q – ‘Better Than Heaven’ (2-CD Reissue)

Stacey Q might be viewed as a one-hit wonder by many fans of ’80s pop. For just as many dance-music devotees, however, the unique blend of radio-friendly melodies and cutting-edge tracks which she and backing synth-band SSQ successfully purveyed for nearly a decade serve as evidence to the contrary. 

At the dawn of the MTV era, the collective—then simply called Q—released an independent EP of new wave-ish minimal fare worlds away from the sleekly produced and cute-voiced “Two of Hearts”—the 1985 recording which became a top-10 slice of ear candy in over half a dozen countries the following year. In fact, Stacey was initially hesitant to record the anthemic tune, as explained in the liner notes of a new two-CD reissue of her first proper solo album, Better Than Heaven.

stacey q better than heaven

The 30-track package includes a total of seven versions of “Two of Hearts,” as well as handfuls of mixes of popular follow-up singles “We Connect,” “Insecurity,” and “Music out of Bounds.” Listening to these cuts and the album’s six other selections over three decades later, it becomes apparent that hasty tendencies to lump Stacey in with a pack of Madonna soundalikes were largely unwarranted.

It’s not surprising that it would appear as such initially to listeners unfamiliar with earlier Stacey-led SSQ cuts like “Synthicide” and “Screaming in My Pillow.” While she employed a wider range of tone on those (similar to the approach she would come to use frequently in concert), “Two of Hearts” relied on a deliberately coquettish delivery that brought to mind Madonna hits such as “Like a Virgin” and “Lucky Star.”

None of Stacey’s subsequent singles matched the pop peaks of “Two of Hearts,” but many got close in the clubs—most prominently, the US club chart-topper “We Connect.” Although not written by the same team as the former, some of its key melodic and rhythmic elements were clearly patterned after it. Yet, it was different enough to not sound like a lazy cash-in clone.

It’s the convergence of that sort of lighter fare with songs like the driving “Insecurity,” nuanced “Don’t Break My Heart,” and mellow “Don’t Let Me Down” that form a distinctly well-rounded and -executed dance-pop set—not to mention the new wave-laden “Dancing Nowhere” and R&B-tinged “Don’t Break My Heart,” both which are embedded with the sensibilities of tunes from SSQ’s 1983 Playback album. 

The bonus material on Cherry Pop’s reissue brings together for the first time on CD many revered mixes which were originally released on various 12” pressings in different territories. Although these were produced in an era predating the phenomenon of reconstructed dance versions differing massively from the original recordings, it’s nonetheless quite interesting to hear the evolution of “Two of Hearts” from its first form to the much-played European Mix and UK-prominent Q-Mix incarnations. Furthermore, both the edited version found on vinyl pressings of Better Than Heaven and special extended mix from the first CD edition are found here.

The tweaks to remixes of “We Connect” and “Music out of Bounds” are more subtle, while the Guitar Mix of “Insecurity” adds notable bite to the number. Finally, the inclusion of instrumentals and bonus beats round out a kinetically and sonically satisfying package ideal for revisiting the fun and eclectic vibes of the ’80s.

“Two of Hearts” is frequently cited in discussions of iconic dance floor tracks from that decadent decade. Now, pop pundits have the evidence to further explore the singer and band behind the gem and discover that the Better Than Heaven album as a whole deserves recognition as an artistically important and consistent collection up there with the best of them. 

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].