I am thinking about Cyndi Lauper's second solo record lately because of Katy Perry's new LP, Prism, which shows her following a pop-juggernaut album with one that flirts with adult contemporary material and subject matter beyond partying and romance (though she still speaks about those). Cyndi Lauper made a very similar transition, following her flawless New Wave pop masterpiece debut, She's So Unusual, with the more adult and more relaxed True Colors.
While She's So Unusual is about the pleasures and trials of romantic and sexual liberation, Lauper's sophomore effort has expanded political and social concerns, including worldly compassion ("Change of Heart"), fighting homophobia ("Boy Blue"), and ending violence (a masterful cover of Gaye's "What's Going On"). Interestingly, despite facing larger issues, the album is lighter than its predecessor, not to mention a generally joyous, optimistic affair through and through. This overall hopefulness is in part because all of the tunes are about perseverance, strength, and community.
Lauper's confident and clear performance coupled with the production are the other key factors. The singer sounds assured and impassioned, and the production has an overall enthusiastic pace (mostly due to electric guitar and drum machines) with permeating threads of world music, including Cajun sounds of "Faraway Nearby," the Hawaiian feel of the Louisiana love-balled "Iko Iko," and the beachy doo-wop of "Maybe He'll Know." In fact, there is a general summery, sandy aura throughout the album that makes it sound as light as air, though it is rather substantial.
Of course the album is best characterized by and still remembered for the title track. Despite three songs breaking into the top twenty, "True Colors" went number one and is the kind of subdued and sturdy self-esteem ballad that continues to be Lauper's stock and trade. It was the lead single from the album and sat at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks; this strange and uncanny parallel (right down to the number of weeks at the pinnacle of the chart) to Katy Perry's "Roar" is not lost on me. What does this say about Perry's and Lauper's careers? Probably not too much beyond that good, optimistic music remains a staple in American pop, and audiences continue to happily sing along.
(Note: A couple years ago I made the case that Katy Perry is her generations' Cyndi Lauper. Unfortunately, I used the now defunct Yahoo! Music for videos in the post, but the ideas are still good, I think.)