Suzi Quatro – In the Spotlight (review)

Suzi Quatro – In the Spotlight (Cherry Red)

Her best new record in years plays to all her strengths.  In America, we remember Suzi Quatro as the cool rock chick Leather Tuscadero on the sitcom “Happy Days,” and for a Top Ten duet in 1979 with Chris Norman, “Stumblin’ In.”  But, overseas, she’s worshipped as a goddess.  She was recently crowned one of the “Twelve Queens of British Pop” by the BBC, she hosts a weekly radio show over there, and has sold a staggering 50 million records worldwide.  The disparity in her popularity from here to over the big pond is difficult to understand.

Quatro’s initial fame grew out of the “glam” movement of the early Seventies, which also featured the Sweet and Gary Glitter, but since that music style never really caught on here, neither did Quatro, even though she released a string of great albums.

Her 15th record, In the Spotlight, reunites her with long-time collaborator Mike Chapman (who also had success with Blondie and the Knack).  Chapman wrote and produced many of her biggest hits overseas, so he knows her strengths and how to get the best out of her.  He assembled an eclectic mix of covers and songs he wrote himself for the record.  “A Girl Like Me,” written by Chapman, embodies everything she’s about – she’s still tough to tangle with after all these years:  “A man like you / A girl like me / We don’t watch the meter / We can park for free.”  “Whatever Love Is,” co-written with tune-magician Holly Knight, has one of those big choruses you want to sing along to.

The other cover songs are equally diverse, digging into the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s back catalog for “Turn Into,” while “Hot Kiss” is an obscure song from actress Juliette Lewis’ band the Licks, and “Strict Angels” is a cover of the electronic duo Goldfrap, where she inserts a snippet of her very first hit “Can the Can” at the very end.  The lone composition that Quatro penned herself is a heartfelt one – “Singing With Angels” is a lyrical tribute to her longtime inspiration, Elvis Presley.   She cleverly weaves in several of Presley’s song titles, but it never comes off as cheesy.  As an added bonus, the song features Presley’s longtime vocal group the Jordanaires on backup vocals, and his guitarist James Burton.

The real highlight is Quatro’s take on a Rihanna album cut (yes!), “Breakin’ Dishes” – meaty drums and a dirty Rhodes piano start off the track, then a rabid-sounding Quatro screams “I don’t’ know who you think I am” over and over.  If I was coming home late, like the man in this song, I’d rather deal with the younger Rihanna – this lady sounds downright NUTS.

Kudos to Chapman for NOT trying to update Quatro’s sound – most tracks give the impression that they just set up a couple of mics in a room and let the guitar, bass, drums and organ go at it.  Quatro’s raspy but confident vocals sound perfect in this setting.  It’s the sympathetic production and go-for-broke delivery that makes In the Spotlight the best Suzi Quatro album in a long time.  –Tony Peters