My fair Cher

I don’t know about you, but I’m really worried about Cher.

I admit I haven’t been her biggest supporter lately. In 1995, I worked at a specialty record shop in New York’s West Village. Our clientele was predominantly gay. Cher was enjoying her umpteenth comeback with that blasted Junior Vasquez house remix of “One by One,” and it was the bane of my existence. Every club and bar in town played that damned track, which meant, come Sunday afternoon, I was subjected to endless requests for it. At the time it was only available on import, and we couldn’t keep the damn thing in stock. I got thrown so much shade over that stupid single. So I dropped Cher like a hot rock.

It wasn’t easy. Up to that point, I’d loved her through thick and thin. I remember seeing her perform with her ill-fated metal band Black Rose on Midnight Special in 1980 and rushing out to buy their eponymous album; it hit the cutout bins a week later. I programmed “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” alongside Depeche Mode and Stray Cats on mix tapes with nary a second thought. No matter how my friends taunted me, my love never faltered. Cher was 100% punk rock: She was completely fashion forward, unafraid of ridicule, and withstood constant press snubs.

Don’t chalk my devotion up to camp (I was too young to fathom such a conceit) or her insurmountable charisma (and you had to have plenty of pull to get away from some of the things she wore). Her music genuinely moved me.

Cher’s a rotten singer. She’s got a vibrato as wide as a six-lane highway, and her pitch is just as flat. More often than not, she gets over on sheer force of will. But until recently, it didn’t matter if she was digging into a Bon Jovi leftover, the impassioned disco plea “Take Me Home,” or the weepy “You Better Sit Down, Kids,” Cher always sang like her life depended on it.

Perhaps she thought it did. Maybe she was terrified that if she slowed down, stepped away from the microphone, the public would forget her, turn their backs. But now, she’s got her Oscar. Her unrelenting stamina has finally ensured that nothing—not Mermaids, not the infomercial—can ever topple her. And you can hear the difference.

I hadn’t planned on listening to the new Believe (Warner Bros.). But an informed friend insisted it was Cher’s answer to Madonna’s latest. Now, I’ve been waiting to have my fag license revoked all year for repeating this sentiment, but Ray of Light is weak. In terms of pop divas wrestling to stay contemporary with electronic dance music, Kylie Minogue did a far superior job on her import-only Impossible Princess. And quite frankly, in a perfect world, they’d all be bending and scraping at Bj�s feet. But Cher tackling techno? This warranted investigation.

I made it through the whole record once. The party kicks off with “the worldwide hit smash single” (translation: “tacky Eurodisco tune”) “Believe.” It thumps along aimlessly for 44 forgettable minutes, and concludes with a dance reworking of her ’87 hit “We All Sleep Alone.” Cher’s singing not only sounds detached, but downright dehumanized, thanks to an abuse of vocal effects disturbingly reminiscent of the cameo by voice-box maestro Roger on Scritti Politti’s new-wave chestnut “Boom! There She Was.”

Cher has published her autobiography. Hollywood takes her seriously. A legion of fans, from Las Vegas blue hairs to muscle queens in wife-beaters, worship and adore her. And, in her day, the dark lady has made some fantastic records. Believe isn’t one of them.