TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Delores La La Brooks was a member of the Phil Spector girl group The Crystals. She sang lead on the 1960's hits "Do Doo Ron Ron" and "Then He Kissed Me." Now in her 60s, she's made a solo album called "All or Nothing." It's a collection of new songs and covers that rock critic Ken Tucker says is more than just an attempt at a career comeback.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
LA LA BROOKS: (singing) Forget how you look tonight. Never mind your style. Leather boots and jeans so tight take away your smile. The way the place gets electrified, when the door swings open and it's you, and my heart is beating. I'm so confused. It'll be so bad. I'll be so glad. If I could have a boy like you.
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: A half-century on, La La Brooks is still singing about boys and girls falling in love. At an age when other veterans of first-generation rock movements are thinking about retirement or oldies tours, Brooks has come up with a fresh, energetic collection that does not deny her past, but also refuses to succumb to mere nostalgia.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIND MADE UP")
BROOKS: (singing) I've got my mind made up. When you're ready to go you're getting out of here. I've got my mind made up. When you're ready to go, you're getting out of here. Mm-hmm. I looked around for...
TUCKER: Brooks has a strong, surging voice that has deepened over the years, as can be heard on that song, "Mind Made Up." But it's not as though the teenager who sang the "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Then He Kissed Me" was a cooing puppet for Phil Spector. Brooks's singing then and now is characterized by a firm assertiveness. She conveys pleasure in being the object of someone's affection, but also in speaking her mind, even when the words are written by others.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I BROKE THAT PROMISE")
BROOKS: (singing) Where do we go from here? Have all the good times been here and gone? When we were just like the birds so free. And we vowed we'd never change, but it's not we who changed; the one who's changing is me. And I broke my promise, that promise that was so special to me. And I...
TUCKER: That's Brooks's cover of Willy De Ville's "I Broke That Promise." It's a song that Brooks has said she's wanted to record since De Ville released his own version of it in the late '70s. Like the Brooklyn-born La La Brooks, Willy De Ville was a New York rocker whose hardboiled exterior can barely contain a romantic's sensibility. Combine that with a learned-over-decades sense of right and wrong, and Brooks's collection gains a crisp authority.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
BROOKS: (singing) I stand by you in every fight and then I cry for you most every night. But this time I won't stand for one more lie. Because two wrongs don't make it right. I thought I loved you...
TUCKER: "All or Nothing" isn't a great album. Its material is uneven, much of it co-written by two of the musicians who helped put this album together, and the production quality can be somewhat muddy. But La La Brooks sings her heart out on every number, and she brings such nuanced force to her phrasing and tone that you don't mind the album's flaws.
"All or Nothing" is a reminder that rock and pop can thrive on imperfection, because it can make the performer sound all the more urgently alive.
GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed "All or Nothing" by La La Brooks.