Anastacia: Anastacia (Epic)

FOR ANASTACIA, the three years since her second album Freak Of Nature confirmed her as the owner of the biggest set of lungs in pop, have been, at best, horrific.

In 2003 she was diagnosed with a rare and extremely virulent form of breast cancer. Worse still she had to suffer the crippling indignity of week in week out having vocally challenged hopefuls ape her throaty gurgle and murder her songs on Pop Idol.

Thankfully, after swift surgery, the cancer abated. Sadly, with American Idol 3 in full swing the teeth grinding impersonations haven’t.

Time then for the former wedding singer to put the recent past behind her and move on. Time for a new direction and in the case of her third album’s first single, a new voice. With a high pitched gothic quiver floating atop ambient brooding, ‘Left Outside Alone”s opening strains could easily have her mistaken for Evanescence’s Amy Lee. The familiar air-raid siren wail does kick in eventually, but it’s bellowing to an uncharacteristically snarly, guitar churning chorus. Yeap, that’s right, Anastacia’s gone rock. Once the undisputed queen of overblown ’80s pop, she’s now chasing overblown metal melodrama.

Of course, being Anastacia, it’s US rock of the bright and glossy kind. Co-writer Glen Ballard clearly drew on his experience of polishing Michael Jackson’s ‘Man In The Mirror’, not his days thrashing out Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. The bleak quiet/loud tech-rock of ‘I Do’ may further fuel the Evanescence comparisons and ‘Seasons Change”s nu-metal — complete with megaphone raps — may slam like Linkin Park, but the specter of the ’80s is never far away.

Power ballad ‘Heavy On My Heart’ is prime for a soft focus video, fun sing-along ‘Sexy Single’ is fun in a Roxette way and ‘Time’ is straight out of the Bon Jovi song book of big belters. With Starship and Bonnie Tyler springing to mind every time an emotional chorus strikes up, she’s hardly gunning for cutting edge cool. Indeed, if it was anyone else, they’d be laughed all the way back to the fancy dress shop they got their shoulder pads from.

Miraculously though, as with her shameless ripping off of Chaka Khan on her previous albums, she gets away with it. Choruses are so strong and rammed home so many times and with such unflinching conviction that they’re almost unquestionable. Love or loathe, an Anastacia chorus is impossible to ignore.

The only thing more staggering than the force of her songs is that she had the energy to sing them. The affects of her illness and its draining treatment may have influenced the subject of her songs — not her usual optimistic self there’s a lot of anger and frustration fashioned into “dump the loser” love songs — but it’s not stilted her delivery. While some might have licked their wounds with quiet reflection, Anastacia’s brush with death has galvanised her to be even bigger and louder.

Clearly Anastacia is alive and well. Simon Cowell should steel himself. There’s plenty more bad impersonations on the way and this time they’ll be attempting to rock.

© Dan GennoeYahoo! Music, March 2004

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