Editor's Note: Our new recurring column ‘Lest We Forget’ is devoted to revisiting albums that have been unfairly overlooked or marginalized within the broader critical and commercial context of our favorite artists’ discographies. We hope that our recollections shine a newfound light on these underappreciated gems from the past, and as always, we encourage you, our readers, to weigh in with your own perspectives and memories in the comments below.
From her days as the winsome frontwoman of the Go-Go’s to her subsequent polished solo turns, Belinda Carlisle was one of the brightest lights of pop music in the 1980s. However, as that decade gave way to the ‘90s, Carlisle found herself cornered by her own successes. Her anthemic, album-oriented rock stylings were now seen as “formulaic” by a public enamored with the sounds of grunge, house and hip-hop. Throw in the bedlam of record label conflict and the return of Carlisle’s addiction woes, and the birthing process of her fourth studio LP Live Your Life Be Free was anything but painless.
But, as the saying goes, “out of adversity comes opportunity,” and despite the ruction, Carlisle hunkered down with her longtime creative cohorts Rick Nowels, Ellen Shipley and former Go-Go Charlotte Caffey―with a few new faces involved in production and songwriting―to bring herself into the new decade. Released in October 1991, Live Your Life Be Free is an intoxicating cocktail of her bright AOR vibes, but this time blended with a hint of dance rhythms, genteel world music flavors, and a few other sonic surprises.
The title track is all verve and color, particularly on its gorgeous chorus. Stormy uptempo numbers aimed at the dancefloor (“Do You Feel Like I Feel,” “I Plead Insanity”) delight in exploring new territory, giving space for Carlisle’s attitude to sashay. Those that preferred Carlisle’s more direct pop aesthetic weren’t disappointed when greeted with the ravishing ballad “Half the World,” the pseudo-punk sneer of “You’re Nothing Without Me,” and drive-time L.A. funk of “World of Love.” And taken as a complete body of work, Live Your Life Be Free marked Carlisle’s conquest of the album format as a place to experiment with its inventive introductions and clever codas sewn carefully into the LP.
Regrettably, Carlisle’s relationship with MCA Records (her American label) worsened as the promotional engine for her fourth record geared up in the fall of 1991. In America, Live Your Life Be Free heralded a cold snap on the charts with its underperformance. Internationally, where Carlisle was represented by Virgin Records, the long player garnered modest critical and commercial attention. During the promotion for the project, Carlisle revealed that she was pregnant with her son which served as a calming catalyst for her personally. But, it also halted any additional marketplace push in support of Live Your Life Be Free.
The two subsequent records that followed (1993’s Real and 1996’s A Woman & A Man) were strong, but reserved. Carlisle returned to musical adventure with her seventh LP, 2007’s frothy French language affair Voila. Even with a decade’s distance between the two records, Voila was a larger staging ground for her forthcoming LP, Wilder Shores due this fall.
Yet, it all began with Live Your Life Be Free, a brave pop record that despite its complicated origins, has aged to perfection and evinced an artist at the first apogee of her abilities.