The evolution of an artist’s career is always interesting to watch, especially if you’ve witnessed the changes yourself over time. Sheena Easton is one of the rare active artists whose voice I associate with at least two stages of my life. She was also one of the few pop artist I listened to during my ‘anti-pop’ stage. Some of my earliest memories of liking and being aware of pop music included moments with her songs. “Morning Train”, “You Should Have Been With Me” and “We’ve Got Tonight with Kenny Rodgers are just a few of those early favorites. That music had crossed over musical boundaries to become part of life’s pre-digital soundtrack in the fuzzy years before the internet or even CDs.
As I got older, I would outgrow Easton’s innocent pop style. As I ignored her albums as a teen, her music was about to change dramatically, so much so that by college I could hardly believe it when I heard the Prince produced “Sugar Walls” in 1985. After that single became a minor pop hit and even bigger R&B smash, she would go on to more productive endeavours with Prince that would climax with his biggest post Purple Rain song “You Got The Look’ from Sign o’ the Times.
Easton’s urban corruption was complete by the time the Batman soundtrack had wrapped up. She made a convincing transformation to R&B vixen from the sweet innocent English pop songstress of just a few years before. This transition was solidified with her 10th album, made as she was going through a rough patch with her old record label. The Lover In Me would have a new R&B flavored sound on a new label MCA.
The album was portfolio of contemporary pop and R&B sounds. Babyface, L.A. Reid and Jellybean Benitez made major contributions to its sound. Others including Prince and Angela Winbush worked on songs that helped push Easton’s boundaries as an artist, but were not always on the radio. The Lover In Me earned considerable street cred with R&B audiences as it hovered on the charts from late 1988 into the summer of 1989. The album also marked the return of Easton on the pop charts in England as well as the US.
Although songs like ‘The Lover In Me’ and “Days Like This” sported a new street smart sound, Easton’s music had become interchangeable with other artists like Pebbles or Vanessa Williams. Much of the reason The Lover In Me sounded so familiar was because some of the best R&B producers of the era were involved in the project. For that reason the album got a bad rap by some traditional Sheena Easton fans.
While many of the Babyface/L.A. Reid produced songs might have sounded similar, it’s the few tracks that fit Easton’s vocal range that work best and offered something truly new. The Angela Winbush produced quiet storm “Fire and Rain” and “101” from Prince are good examples of Easton expanding her artistic boundaries. “101” adds a bit of a dark brooding edge to what would otherwise be a bubblegum pop album. Although atypical, The Lover In Me was a nice reprise from the innocent girl image Easton had before meeting Prince.
I can’t admit to being a fan of this album when it was new, mostly because I was so tired of hearing it (or the same 3 songs) on the radio. I was still deep into my bias against bubblegum pop music at this time, or at least the stuff that was over exposed on the radio. However, some of her most interesting songs were trapped on this record and that alone made it worth searching through the punch-out bins for.
After Prince and the R&B influences, Easton’s career would take a lower profile once again as she experimented with standards and other material befitting her now more mature audience and development as an artist.