'Fabulous' Easton Turns Dance Diva

By Chuck Taylor

NEW YORK- Sheena Easton is the first to admit it. "I'm a dance geek. I make no bones about it," she says with a wry smile. "Anyone who's seen any of my videos knows that."

But that didn't keep the dauntless, ever-glam pop singer from raising her hands and lifting her voice to the rafters for the playful "Fabulous," a no apologies, all out disco dance album whose buzzwords center on fun, camp, and being the ultimate party companion.

Due Nov. 13 in the U.K. on Universal International, the project - Easton's 15th - will also be released in the next several months across continental Europe, Australia, and Japan. A U.S. release is still in the works; the label is hopeful for a spring street date here.

The 10-track set's first single, the vigorous throwdown "Giving Up, Giving In" (a top 20 hit in the U.K. for the Three Degrees in 1978), is one of eight remakes, along with "Don't Leave Me This Way," "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You," "Never Can Say Goodbye," "Best Of My Love," and "Love Is In Control."

"You take two artists and tell them to paint blue flowers, and you're going to get to different versions. It's the same with the songs on this album," Easton says. "I'm not reinventing the wheel; I'm not trying to be clever and make people go, 'Wow, that is so different.' Hopefully, peolpe of my generation will say, 'It's great to hear that song with a slightly new slant,' while kids will enjoy hearing some of these songs for the first time."

There are also two new compositions on "Fabulous": the sizzling ballad "You Never Gave Me The Chance" and a dance frolic in the spirit of Donna Summer's "Last Dance" called "Get Here To Me."

Both are written and produced by the album's production maestros Ian Masterson and Terry Ronald, who have worked with the likes of Kylie Minogue, Boyzone, Geri Halliwell and the Pet Shop Boys.

"We insisted that if we were going to do this, we didn't want to piss around," says Masterson. "It wasn't about trying to borrow influences from disco, but to capture the real essence of it. And that's what we did. We're not trying to supersede the originals but to make them more accesible today, more funky but still with the feel of the originals."

The album's party concept was the brainchild of Universal U.K. A&R executiveTony Swain, who, as part of 80's production team Swain & Jolley, worked with Bananarama, Kim Wilde, Alison Moyet, and Culture Club. He had it in his mind to record a giddy, mass appeal disco album-even before he had a singer hooked into the idea.

"We were looking for an artist who was already established, someone who could carry this off in a real diva style," he says. "We wanted someone glamorous who could sing the socks off of these songs."

Easton quickly came to mind.

"People still remember her beginnings with 'Moder Girl' and '9 To 5' ("Morning Train" in the U.S.), and the James Bond film, 'For Your Eyes Only,'" says Swayn. "Her role in Miami Vice, in which Easton played Sonny Crockett's wife in 1989, "and the Prince phenomenon were all watched closely here. She's had a lot of success, and we felt this would be a great angle to get her back to the forefront. She looks absolutely fantastic, and her singing is better than ever."

"However, when approached about recording the project, Easton was hardly sold on being 'Fabulous'. For one thing, she'd just commited to yearlong contract playing alongside David Cassidy in the musical "At The Copa" in Las Vegas. She also still held a recording contract with MCA Japan. But there was more.

"I didn't want to deal with the politics and the egos and all the crap that goes into it," she says. "I told them that I wouldn't be available for a whole bunch of promotion, that I wasn't moving to England for six months. They said, 'No problem'-they would do the tracks in England, and I could record vocals in Vegas. Every time I had an objection, they made it easier. So I said, 'Sign me up.'"

Toward the end of 1999, Swain and Easton met in Los Angeles, her home base, and started reeling through lists potential songs. Soon after, she flew to London to meet with Masterson and Ronald.

"We intimidated each other at first," Easton admits. "They thought I'd be some sort of diva, and I thought they'd be a couple of snotty-nosed trendies that thought everything was too hip and cool and I wasn't. Well, they're from England, I'm from Scotland, and we grew up with the same sarcastic British humour, so we spent the first half-day insulting each other, cracking each other up, and telling some really filthy, disgusting jokes."

"There was a dynamic there from the start," Masterson agrees. "Sheena was easy going and brilliant. It couldn't have been better."

That vibe certainly pervades "Fabulous," which easily inspires broad smiles and a willing bounce. Easton's vocals are potent, playful, and they leave no doubt as to her status as a plenty adept diva.

"It was so liberating to me, like being a new artist and playing dumb," she says. "Obviously, I'd tell them if there was something I didn't like, but we had the same taste in so much stuff, and I could see that they were living and dying over this. They reminded me of me when I was in the totally-consumed-and-absorved-stage of recording. It was great fun."

Instrumenatally, Masterson and Ronald masterfully mesh pure disco with a flush of contemporary beats and production techniques, including genuine orchestrations, horn accents, and a robust chorus of soulful background vocals throughout. Indeed, the set is rapturous.

To get the word out, Universal has an extensive marketing campaign in the works. First, a BBC documentary will air in the U.K. in early December, showcasing Easton's 20-year career. It serves as an update to the network's 1981 documentary "The Big Time," which illustrated the launch of her career. "The new documentary is a historical piece and a modern piece about making this record. By December, we'll have a very big story to tell from the U.K.," says Kate Farmer, VP of marketing for Universal International. "That's important because we see this as the ultimate party compilation, and we want it out for Christmas."

Launch single, "Giving Up, Giving In" has been craftily remixed, with club versions from Joey Negro, Sleaze Sisters, Sharp, and an extended mix from Masterson and Ronald. A single hits retail Nov. 27th. The accompanying video is nothing less than raucous, featuring Easton conjuring three extreme diva-esque personas; the ice princess, the wild horse, and the sex kitten. Without doubt, it's the most elaborate music clip she ever shot.

Meanwhile, Easton will spend her dark weeks with "At The Copa" in England promoting the record through TV and radio appearances, print press, and a live gig Nov 18th at London's G.A.Y. night at the Astoria.

We've put a lot behind this album, and we're going to support it," says Swain. "Sheena is doing everything she can in the time alloted away from the show. It's been an awesome task, but she's done that we've wanted to. She always gives us more than she says she will."

That's probably because she is feeling pretty fabulous about the outcome of the project-which garnered its camp-fortified name through her antics with Masterson and Ronald. "Fabulous" is so toungue-in-cheek," she says. "When we were recording, the guys would say, 'Oh, Miss Easton, you're so fa-a-abulous. You're just simply fabu today. Love the hair.' Originally, the label was going to call the album, 'Sheena,' but this so fit with the spirit of the project.

"You just can't do disco and take yourself incredibly seriously," she adds. "Anyone who does, it's like, Oh, get over yourself.' You just have to put this album on, play it really loud, and dance."