Singing advice, Hollywood gossip, fashion tips: You’d go to Cher for many things, but detailed driving directions might not be one of them.
Yet on a recent evening in the back seat of a limousine traveling down Sunset Boulevard, that’s precisely what she was providing to a chauffeur uncertain of how to get to Soho House in West Hollywood. A taping on the Eastside for next year’s Academy Awards had gone long, and the singer was running late in rush-hour traffic for a party celebrating her new album. If this worried Cher, though, she wasn’t showing it.
“I don’t really care about the party,” she said. “I just want to hear my record.”
That straightforward manner carries over to “Closer to the Truth,” Cher’s first album since 2001. At a time when many of her contemporaries are approaching fresh work with some kind of defined narrative — think Elton John’s back-to-basics “The Diving Board” or Sting’s set of songs written for a Broadway musical — it’s nothing more than a collection of high-energy disco anthems with titles such as “Dressed to Kill” and “Take It Like a Man.”
And thank goodness for that, because more than maybe any other 67-year-old in show business, Cher — the woman who’s outlasted countless fads — is in no need of a concept. Put another way, Cher is the concept.
“It never occurred to me do anything else,” she said with a laugh as the car waited at a stoplight. On the cover of the new album she’s going for a blond-bombshell look but today she was reserved in a gold-and-black pantsuit, her dark hair hanging long and straight. “That seems too deep.”
Even so, there is one question that applies to “Closer to the Truth,” which came out last week: More than a decade after her global smash “Believe” helped touch off a dance-pop revival that’s still playing out, can Cher connect with listeners too young to remember her dancing on a Navy battleship or singing “I Got You Babe” with former husband Sonny Bono?
There’s no denying the influence she’s had on such modern hit makers as Rihanna and Lady Gaga, whose music similarly layers big vocals over sleek beats and whose style sensibilities push boundaries that Cher did as much as anyone to set.
This summer a duet between Cher and Lady Gaga, “The Greatest Thing,” leaked online, and the new album contains collaborations with Pink (who co-wrote two songs) and Jake Shears of New York’s Scissor Sisters.
She’s putting in the work to make herself visible too, with recent high-profile appearances on “Today” and “Late Show With David Letterman,” where she was lowered to the stage on a pillowed trapeze.
This month she’ll serve as a mentor on “The Voice,” not long after the NBC series hosted Cher’s first performance of the album’s stadium-rave single, “Woman’s World” — a gig for which she wore a metallic jacket over a leather-and-fishnet bustier and what appeared to be two wigs.
And next year she’ll launch a North American road show called the Dressed to Kill Tour.
“She’s incredibly proud of this album, and her work ethic and attention to detail are at the highest level,” said Cameron Strang, head of her label, Warner Bros. Records. “The biggest challenge of working with Cher is that there’s only one Cher.”
Still, all that exposure doesn’t necessarily mean that “Closer to the Truth” will stick in a pop scene that moves exponentially faster than it did when “Believe” took hold.
Mark Taylor, who produced “Believe” and oversaw a number of tracks on the new disc, acknowledged that younger listeners “have to have their channels open” to receive the music — especially given Top 40 radio’s general disinclination toward playing songs by older artists.
But he added that tunes like “Lovers Forever,” which Cher co-wrote, and the surging “Favorite Scars” exude an uncommon sincerity that makes them stand out.
“So many artists say, ‘I’m going to do a dance beat because that’s what radio plays,’” he said. “Whereas she’s just come around and made a record that she likes.”
There’s something to that: Amid the whooshing synths and mechanized club grooves, Cher summons a disarming intimacy on “Closer to the Truth,” which also includes a handful of queen-sized power ballads. The record doesn’t diminish her iconic status but somehow makes it feel lifelike.
True to her no-nonsense form, Cher described it plainly.
“I don’t strive to be something that I’m not,” she said. “My voice — even if it’s high, even if it’s soft — it just kind of is what it is. I’m not going to try to pull a sleeve inside out, you know what I mean? I sing the way I sing, and you like it or not. It’s just me.”
As the limo approached Soho House — “It’s right where Doheny goes up by Sierra Towers,” she told the driver — the conversation moved away from the album, and she was asked if there was a question she was tired of in this latest round of promotion.
“‘What do you think of Miley Cyrus?’” she answered without hesitation. “I get that all day.”
Everything else, though, was fair game, including the political views she voices on Twitter (“I can say what I want — what’s someone going to do to me now?”) and her opinion of “Burlesque,” the 2010 movie musical in which she costarred with Christina Aguilera.
“It wasn’t a good film,” she said. “It had a few good moments, but I didn’t even like my performance that much.” She laughed. “What, I don’t have a brain? I’m old but I’m still pretty on top of everything.”
Then she asked the driver to idle for a minute on the street. The party inside had already started, but Cher, of course, had an entrance to make.