Upon its release in 1987, Heaven on Earth, Belinda Carlisle‘s second solo album, was a grand slam hit. The Go-Go’s lead singer had parlayed the success of her previous band with 1986’s Belinda, which spawned one excellent single, “Mad About You,” but was overall a weak effort from an artist trying to create her own identity after coming from such a distinctive group.
Heaven on Earth found Carlisle in the company of two excellent songwriters, Diane Warren and Ellen Shipley. They understood Carlisle’s singing abilities–and potential–and wrote songs that reflected her range, helping her blossom into a fine, talented, and powerful singer. They knew what they were doing, because the album was an international success, with six of the album’s ten songs released as singles, all six were international hits. In the US, three of the six songs were top ten hits; first single “Heaven Is A Place on Earth,” was a number one hit in eight countries, while follow-ups “I Get Weak” went to number two, and “Circle In The Sand” went to number five.
It’s easy to understand why these songs were successful; they’re big, masterfully arranged pop numbers, and though it’s easy to recognize the Eighties pop styles, one must remember that Carlisle helped to define that style. Carlisle’s greatest strength has been her powerful voice; The Go-Go’s fun-loving party persona helped to obscure her great range, which is fully utilized on Heaven on Earth. The slightly trippy ballad “Circle In The Sand” fits nicely next to the romantic ballads like “I Get Weak” and “We Can Change” and the uptempo dance grooves of the title track and an interesting cover of Cream’s “I Feel Free.” It’s also worth mentioning that former Go-Go’s pianist and songwriter Charlotte Coffey co-wrote a number of songs here as well, such as the punky hard-rock of “Nobody Owns Me,” and the tender album closer “Love Never Dies.” Like most albums of the time, the singles were remixed versions of album cuts, and while the album versions are good, the single versions are much more polished, succinct, and familiar, and are compiled at the end of the original ten-song album.
This deluxe reissue contains two discs, of varying importance. Disc two features most of the single’s b-sides, which were mainly remixes of mixed quality. In the US and the UK, her singles’ non-remix B-sides were album cuts, which means that almost all of the album was released in single format.Not everything here has stood the test of time, and while William Orbit and Shep Pettibone are both masterful mixers, it doesn’t change the fact that the dated feel of their arrangements overwhelms the timeless songs.
The third disc, however, makes up for the remixes.and helps to highlight what made Heaven on Earth‘s singles so popular. First on the DVD is an in-depth conversation with Belinda about the album, about where she was as a person, as well as lots of other interesting facets. Following that are the videos for the album’s six singles, and one quickly realizes that it’s the high quality of the videos that helped propel the song on the MTV playlists. “Heaven is a Place on Earth” and “I Get Weak” were both produced by Diane Keaton, and help paint Carlisle as a mature, cool, artsy, and sexy artist. The final feature on the disc is Live!, a full concert that finds Carlisle performing the album’s hits, a few numbers from her debut, and a handful of Go-Go’s tunes. More importantly, it shows her as a happy, excited performer and entertainer–someone who is having fun doing what she is doing, and doing what she does best.
Heaven on Earth’s extraordinary success, would unfortunately overshadow her later solo records; they would never repeat this album’s commercial success, though it wasn’t for a lack of quality material or singing. Times were changing, and the big pop singer era was coming to an end, and much like with her Go-Go’s work, her career would be stifled and pigeonholed thanks to this success, even as she continued to make excellent records. But the latter disappointments shouldn’t damper the one great truth: Heaven on Earth is one of the few 1980s smash albums that has stood the test of time. While one might not find much use for some of the extra material offered in this set, it is a complete collection, and it only helps to show what made this record so damn special.