REVIEW BY: Mark Millan
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/07/2011
After splitting from Ike in July of ‘76, Tina Turner found herself without a job, a manager, a recording contract and in mountains of debt. Because it was she who left the Revue, Tina was now liable to all of the promoters who had them booked solidly well into 1977. Not long after leaving, Tina scored a run in the hotel circuits of L.A and Vegas and soon came to the attention of a young and ambitious manager Roger Davies, who was also Olivia Newton-John’s manager. Davies agreed to take on Tina after witnessing one of her blistering shows at a San Francisco hotel.
The first step in a long road back was for Tina to resurrect her nonexistent recording career. Her last solo LP, Acid Queen (from 1975), had performed decently, but it vanished from the charts quickly. Ike Turner didn’t help the situation by releasing the duo’s last official studio LP a full two years after Tina split, 1978’s Airwaves. This caused quite a lot of confusion as the public and many within the business thought the Turners were still very much married. Ike’s reputation was beginning to sour within the industry and because the Turners had not scored a sizable hit since Tina’s self-penned “Nut Bush City Limits” in 1974, few were willing to sign Tina onto their books.
With a tentative deal arranged by Davies through EMI though for a couple of records in mid-1978, Tina got busy and booked some gigs to pay for the studio time. Rough was hastily recorded and it shows as several songs were lifted straight from Tina’s set-list at the time and no original material was written especially for the project. As a result, the whole record has a very Vegas feel to it and Tina’s singing at times is very over-the-top, but overall, it’s not as bad as the woeful sales figures would have you believe.
Covering everything from disco, pop, rock, and country is always going to spell trouble and although for the most part it sticks to mid-tempo tracks, there is enough fire on Rough to still overcome the obstacle of the material being pretty much second-rate. Opener “Fruits Of The Night” is a winner and along with the aptly titled “Root, Toot Undisputable Rock ‘N’ Roller,” keeps the energy level up way high. Elton John’s “The Bitch Is Back” was a staple of Turner’s shows back then and here she has no trouble making it her own. The funky “Viva La Money” was a moderate hit off the album as it walks the fine line between R&B and disco beautifully.
Bob Seger’s “Fire Down Below” has been covered countless times over the years and Tina’s version is one of the better ones, but it ain’t a scratch on the original. The last track I could offer up here as a highlight would be the record’s closer “Night Time Is The Right Time,” which features a great performance from Tina backed by a great swinging and bluesy arrangement. Rough does though contain some bloody awful moments, the worst being a schmaltzy cover of the horrid ballad “Sometimes When We Touch,” with which Tina just wanted to prove that she could actually sing but as the old saying goes, “you can’t polish a turd.”
The equally terrible piano ballad “A Woman In A Man’s World” is as horribly clichéd as its title, and the ridiculous “Earthquake & Hurricane” offers nothing new or even remotely exciting. Tina also misfires with a dreary cover of possibly my favorite Willie Nelson song “Funny How Time Slips Away,” which is just too sleepy to standout. Unfortunately for Tina, Rough died a rather quick and painless death, and although she followed it with a straight disco album the next year (Love Explosion), EMI did not renew her contract and it would be another five years before the hardest working woman in showbiz finally hit pay dirt.
While Rough was not the hit Turner had prayed for, it was the first time she had complete control over a project and was able to do whatever she wanted to do. It also marks the beginning of the second phase of her career and life as a truly free woman.