The woman who made professional wrestling famous sings country standards pretty well. But if this is a detour, it still seems like her end goal is a Vegas hotel.
A cursory look at the tracklist for Cyndi Lauper’s Detour — and at least some knowledge of the artist herself — paints a pretty clear portrait. Lauper’s looking for a public way into country: Detour is a country album, featuring names like Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson and Vince Gill (and Jewel?), made (entirely?) of covers. It’s the kind of thing that gets marketed as a passion project by a connected superstar who maybe doesn’t shine quite as bright as she used to.
The reality of these kinds of projects tends to be that they are swept under the rug, if not outright ignored. Probably the real purpose of them is to cement or develop industry connections, producing or solidifying networks that range from the personal to the blurbable. Which isn’t to say there isn’t a consumer market for them as well, only that it’s hard to imagine that it is the ultimate concern.
What strikes about actually listening to Detour, beyond reviewing its credits, is the slightly askew version of this that Lauper ends up with. Lauper’s cover of Willie Nelson’s “Night Life” (featuring Nelson) is probably the best example, as the song feels more aligned with Standards than Country, in terms of genre. The record’s best songs — “Heartaches by the Number” and “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” (featuring Jewel yodeling, and pretty well?) — move around that as well. If Detour is primarily an industry-facing project that happens to have an album, then it ends up sounding more like a bid for Lauper to demonstrate her availability on the lounge circuit more than anything else.
Which is, at least in my estimation, an aspect of the industry that seems wildly under-discussed. The obvious examples — the Celine Dions — are there because their careers have developed a post-hoc teleology to them; it is nearly impossible to listen to Dion without attributing to her a narrative that ends in Los Vegas Hotels. And I suspect that post-Detour, Lauper could very well have that same trajectory. Even if it is an album that doesn’t explode into popular consensus, it will do its work to quietly rewrite Lauper’s history in service of that same, or at least a similar, teleology. In a weird way, it’s the pop equivalent of rap’s ‘manage a young talent’ model; if Lauper is Usher, this record is her featuring on Bieber’s first song before she can disappear behind him.
None of which is to say much of anything about Detour itself as an album, because there really isn’t much there to talk about. The covers are performed with fidelity but little extravagance, the instrumentation hews closely enough to the originals to get away with the little flourishes that give the sense of a lounge act without explicitly being one. The real disappointment is that Lauper is very subdued throughout the record, but it’s not that big of a deal; no one can reasonably expect that Lauper’s still just wanting to have fun all the time.