Bernadette Cooper - Last Diva on Earth, Episode 1: Planet Sexy (2015)

Bernadette Cooper
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As founder and guiding force of the cutting-edge power-R&B band Klymaxx from the early to mid 1980s, drummer and vocalist Bernadette Cooper opened doors in contemporary soul and dance music for women both musically and lyrically. With a uniquely sassy, unmistakably assertive tone, her presence on kick-butt jams such as “Meeting in the Ladies’ Room,” “The Men All Pause,” and “Sexy” was at once both demure and powerful. Her departure from Klymaxx during its commercial peak left a clear void in the realm of funky females—one which she temporarily returned to fill in 1990 with the conceptual solo LP, Drama According to Bernadette Cooper.

As founder and guiding force of the cutting-edge power-R&B band Klymaxx from the early to mid 1980s, drummer and vocalist Bernadette Cooper opened doors in contemporary soul and dance music for women both musically and lyrically. With a uniquely sassy, unmistakably assertive tone, her presence on kick-butt jams such as “Meeting in the Ladies’ Room,” “The Men All Pause,” and “Sexy” was at once both demure and powerful. Her departure from Klymaxx during its commercial peak left a clear void in the realm of funky females—one which she temporarily returned to fill in 1990 with the conceptual solo LP, Drama According to Bernadette Cooper.

While the ‘90s found Cooper writing and producing for acts as diverse as her own creation, Madame X, and pop princess Paula Abdul, it wasn’t until a 2003 Bands Reunited special on VH1 that she began to entertain the concept of recording and performing with Klymaxx again. Thus, the arrival after two decades of her second solo set, Last Diva on Earth, Episode 1: Planet Sexy, is a surprising treat. Retaining the attitudinal essence of her earlier work, the lighthearted yet thoughtful collection is an enjoyable reminder of the fun and individuality that we should all try to celebrate in our everyday lives.

Just as Klymaxx veered from intially straightforward R&B tendencies to a trendier, electro-savvy approach on its breakthrough albums, Cooper experiments with various forward-thinking technological arrangements on Last Diva on Earth. It would be nice to hear her get her live drum groove on once in awhile; but the assemblage of ethereal programming and rhythmic stances on Diva’s 11 selections keep the listener engaged. “All the Girls Are Looking,” the album’s first single, is a pleasing midtempo with a gently swaying, percussive groove; while the catchy “Let a Diva Know” boasts an innovative house vibe that’s simultaneously classic and nouveau.

Describing herself as a diseuse in the press release for Last Diva, Cooper does indeed incorporate a generous helping of spoken word into her new recordings. The smoothly executed combination makes for a creative melodic atmosphere, making up for what she lacks in vocal power with a palette of moody phrasing and understated textures. It’s especially effective on the slow-grooving “Damn, I Wish” and the campy title cut. These two numbers also point to the contrast of fun and seriousness that resonates throughout the album. Whereas “Damn” explores the Pandora’s Box of a destructive romance, “Last Diva” puts a superhero spin on being oneself and loving it.

One of the most memorable moments on Last Diva on Earth comes via the feel-good number, “Fashion Girl,” which juxtaposes a breezy, hip-hop-spiced beat pattern with carefree lyrics about a relaxing weekend spent “rocking the runway hair, roaming the neighborhood, strolling the boulevard.” The good-time feel is taken up a notch via several dance floor-driven remixes with added dialogue and harmonic variations. On the other side of the spectrum, Cooper delves into a passion for commitment on the offbeat “Born a Sinner,” which begins with an otherworldly background mood before transitioning into a distinctive uptempo romp. “I just came to earth/I just came to bring you love…to kick it with you, to do absolutely nothing with you…I’m here, I came to bring you love/To hide from the rest of the world…” So begins the poetry segment of the cut. “Since I love you the way I love you/Does it mean I was born a sinner?” she sings delicately once the beat kicks in. “If I could lay in your arms 24 hours a day/The neighbors would call me a sinner…I don’t care baby, I surrender.”

When it comes to both the messages she conveys and the musical platforms she uses to do so, Cooper retains an unaffected authenticity through the duration of Last Diva on Earth. She has alluded to her music as “not R&B, not Pop, not Hip-Hop,” but “Diva,” in the broad sense of being who she is without consideration for categorization—and carrying the results out with unabashed confidence. Longtime fans of Klymaxx and younger listeners searching for a refreshing sonic demonstration of individuality alike will find a familiar, yet never formulaic, menu of colorful flavors and story lines within. Recommended.

by Justin Kantor

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