Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Pat Benatar's Pop Exotica: "Tropico"

Grandiosity is the essence of Tropico (1984), Pat Benatar's fifth studio recording. The album signified a departure for the rock vocalist. With In the Heat of the Night (1979), Pat Benatar surged forth with a metallic sex appeal instantly setting her own mold as an early MTV staple in the process. By 1982, the role had become suffocating for Benatar, as she herself would confess many times over. This suffocation showed on the uninspired new wave sputtering of the Get Nervous album. Clearly aspiring for an artistic out, she found it on the classic "Love is A Battlefield," from her Live From Earth LP (1983). The song was tough, but carried a plush pop range heretofore that she'd never shown.

Benatar's beginnings in music were classical, she had to learn how to sing the sharp edges of rock 'n' roll later.  That alone professed Benatar had ambition beyond the Top 40 rock format which had boxed her in. With her guitarist-husband Neil Giraldo and her stalwart band Charlie Giordano (keyboards), Roger Capps and Ronnie Nossov (bass), Myron Grombacher (drums), Tropico was forged. Production duties were split between Giraldo and Peter Coleman, with the songwriting duties handled by Benatar, Giraldo, Coleman, and her band members.

A cornucopia of lyrics, vocal readings, and song arrangements, Tropico was designed to bring across "shades" rather than "blasts." Said "blasting" had been a characteristic of Benatar's prior work. The "shading" placed emphasis on the intricacy of the song, versus its power, meaning everything was situated perfectly. At this period for Benatar, it was a step forward into musical maturity.

Epic aural movements such as "Painted Desert" and "Outlaw Blues" were deep, folkloric tales with diverse productions that looked to warm, gypsy-like guitar-pop not heard in the traditional power ballads of the day. Benatar gave solid performances throughout, alive and aware of the material. She walked through echoing sonic hallways and soothed any appearance of a frantic guitar cry. It was not all demure water colors though, Benatar managed the uptempo "Temporary Heroes" with its interesting use of drum loops. The dark and winding "Diamond Field" was a production fascination with is multi-dimensional vocal splicing. The swing blues explosion in the "Ooh Ooh Song" kicked ass in the classic Benatar vein. The "Ooh Ooh Song" sported a meaty guitar lick that segued into a cutesy keyboard riff, Benatar then dressed the song with tangy, but authoritative charm.onsidered the first blue-print for her blues experiment a decade later with her True Love (1991) record, it somehow worked. "We Belong," in its shimmering glory, calls this record home, but Tropico's best moments are the lesser known singles and album cuts.

"Painted Desert"
Directed By: Chris Gabrin

The record returned modest platinum sales and did well with critics, but it divided fans. Pat Benatar gained a creative threshold that many of her contemporaries did not with this long player. Over 20 years later Tropico's exotic refreshment quenches the thirst for those looking for a different kind of excitement. Five out of five stars.-QH

[Editor's Note: Tropico has long since been out of print and goes for a fair, if at times overpriced amount on Amazon used. eBay or a local used or indepedent record store would be the best place to find a copy. For more current information on Pat Benatar, visit -QH]


RhythmicSoul said...

i had no idea thats where pat got her start, in opera...i would have never thought it...ofcourse i love all the instantly recognizable hits shes done but ive never really dug into her music to get a real feel for her...any suggestions?

KennySF said...

I've been a fan of Pat's for 28 years and Tropico is my favorite of all her albums. It's just a beautiful piece of work. I remember one critic saying that it was "electric and sensitive" and that is so true. Painted Desert is my favorite song of all of hers and the Neil's guitar style goes so well with her voice. The only track I don't care for is Ooh Ooh Song. It's obnoxious to me, but the rest of the album is to me a masterpiece. Outlaw Blues and Crazy World are stand outs and of course the mega hit We Belong. I'm so happy to see this album showcased on here. It made me sign up. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Pat has always nade good cd's.She's great.

Anonymous said...

RhythmicSoul - If you want to explore Benatar beyond the hits I think you should try "In The Heat of the Night" and "Seven the Hard Way". They are both pretty diverse albums but with hooks galore and spectacular vocal performances. "True Love" is a great album if you want to hear her sing torch ballads and uptempo blues songs.