Sheena Easton

Sheena Easton

EMI, 1981

http://www.sheenaeaston.com

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/06/2014

When I first heard “Morning Train (Nine To Five)” played on the radio, I didn’t know who it was. I liked what I heard, but for all I knew it could’ve been Marie Osmond. How was I supposed to know it would be an unknown artist by the name of Sheena Easton and that she came from Scotland? She was a Best New Artist for a Bright New Decade. Sheena would go on to be something of an ‘80s staple, even becoming a protégé for the Artist Known (forever) as Prince (their duet “U Got The Look” remains my favorite Prince hit). But back in 1980, she was far from the flashy superstar and seemed intent only to make her mark as an unassuming singer with a golden voice.

Between Sheena Easton and the arrival of the megawatt Madonna, Blondie’s Debbie Harry didn’t stand a chance. When the folks at United Artists were searching for a James Bond theme for “For Your Eyes Only,” they turned down Blondie’s attempt and chose up-and-coming Sheena Easton’s instead. Then, with some Grammy awards to cement her status as a force to be reckoned with, Sheena had arrived. Conquering America in such a quiet way just doesn’t happen anymore, but back then it did. There’s something to be said for talent and Miss Easton seemed to have it in spades.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

So what about her eponymous debut album? If pleasant Adult Contemporary is your thing, then this should satisfy. If you’re expecting something along the lines of her later hits “Telefone” or “Sugar Walls,” think again. None of that sexual bravado will be found here. Sheena Easton’s career has always reminded me of Olivia Newton-John’s. Olivia’s handlers knew how to sex up her image, especially when she went from country to pop. The film Grease tells that story to the letter. Same with Sheena. Put out some radio-friendly and innocent mid-tempo fare first before setting the world on fire in showing that other side, which could potentially turn off those with more conservative tastes. Is the glam treatment nothing more than a ploy to remain a relevant chart force? Today, everything out of the gate is in-your-face, hitting you over the head. But back then, you were left to wonder.

The album kicks off with the aforementioned “Morning Train”, which had to be retitled to avoid confusion with Dolly Parton’s “9 To 5.” The good thing is that the #1 hit – the only Sheena Easton song with that distinction - wasn’t overplayed, so it still sounds fresh. The next song “Don’t Send Flowers” could’ve been sung by Carrie Underwood, another female vocalist who struggles to hit the high notes, at least without shouting. You wouldn’t think these two singers have a limited range, but they do. What’s even more distracting is the dismal production by Christopher Neil. The backing vocals are a complete misfire and tend to dominate Sheena throughout the entire album. It’s the kind of thing you hear in Muzak. Not good.

Sheena flexes some muscle on the rock ballad “Prisoner” before turning on the charm for the excellent follow-up single “Modern Girl.” If you’re fortunate to own the remastered CD like I am, you’ll likely agree that the bonus tracks are better than the bulk of the original album. Worth mentioning here are the stirring ballads “Paradox” and “Summer’s Over.” Along with the closing cut “Calm Before The Storm,” this haunting trilogy captures Sheena Easton at her very best.

Unfortunately, mature female pop such as this has become something of a distant memory. Singer-songwriters like Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson are trying to carry the torch, so kudos to them. Sheena’s first five albums have become signposts of where my interest in pop music first took hold, so I tip my hat in her direction with gratitude. What this first album helps to demonstrate is that you should never forget your roots or where you came from. I’m quite certain Sheena Easton made her fellow Scottish countrymen very proud.

Rating: B

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