Chains (T Arena/P Reswick/S Werfel) 1994 and Sorrento Moon (I Remember) (T Arena/D Tyson/C Ward) and Wasn’t It Good (T Arena/H Field/R Parde) 1995 Tina Arena
Following success with her debut album Strong As Steel and the single I Need Your Body in 1990, Arena toured in support of the record and in 1991 departed for the US to develop new material for her next album with Sony. While there she met Rick Price’s manager Ralph Carr (below), he was 32 and she was 24, he would become both her manager and in 1995 her husband, but the relationship was more about their shared business interests than a solid and enduring personal connection, they divorced in 1999, and Arena subsequently described the marriage as “disgraceful”.Tina had successfully shed her YTT “Tiny Tina” persona for a sexy bombshell disco diva image, primarily because of the raunchy promo clip that had accompanied I Need Your Body, which she was uncomfortable with, her next album would chart a different course for her as a more mature, sophisticated, performer, who could bring her stunning soprano vocals to songs that were more soulful, introspective, and personal, because she would write them!Tina relocated to LA to record her second album in 1994 and reveled in the opportunity to write and demo new songs for her upcoming album, with local LA songwriters Steve Werfel (below) and Pam Reswick, David Tyson, and several Aussies including Heather Field, Rick Price and Robert Parde.Chains was recorded in Los Angeles and produced by Canadian David Tyson (Alannah Myles, Hall and Oates, Peter Cetera), it is a classic power ballad with new jack swing production techniques and grooves – hip hop and dance-pop hybrid styles, merged within a contemporary rhythm and blues structure. It was an intriguing shift in style for Arena, dark, bluesy, sensitive, and dramatic, she shared songwriting credits with Werfel and Reswick (Vanessa Amorosi, Natalie Cole, Rick Price), and ultimately co-wrote ten of the eleven tracks on the album, that would become known as Don’t Ask.Arena’s mellifluous soulful vocals over rhythms and beats keep you guessing where the song is going, this was the intriguing enigma at the heart of Chains, which was inventive and firmly established Tina as an assured adult performer, her vocals are impassioned, the backing vocals from Marilyn Martin were perfect, and the arrangement and orchestration dramatic and hypnotic. The song intros with percussive finger snaps and handclaps, keening vocals and subtle percussion create a sparse, brooding almost menacing aura, strings, backing vocals and the swell of guitars and orchestration then take us to the dramatic finale, the diva had delivered.
Chains charted nationally at #4 and internationally it was also a hit, #20 Canada, #7 NZ, #6 UK, #38 USA, and top ten on the European Hot 100 singles. The promo video featured Tina simply dressed in jeans and shirt cowering in the corner of a darkened room, gradually she begins to throw off the shackles and tear the covers down from the wjndows, the light then floods in, this was a metaphor for the struggle that Tina had to endure to escape the juvenile image that had initially blighted her solo career, but now that she had triumphed through struggle and heart ache, she is liberated and empowered.The second single lifted from the album was Sorrento Moon (I Remember), a nostalgic reflection by Arena of her childhood summer holidays with her family on the Mornington Peninsula at Sorrento (Vic).She has recalled how the song started out as a demo tape by David Tyson and Chris Ward with guitar, bass, and drums, and had a Latin feel to it, but it needed a melody and lyrics. Tina was inspired by her childhood memories of family holidays at their family beach shack, the joy of childhood freedom, summery feelgood vibes and bittersweet nostalgia about friends and family.
The predominantly acoustic guitar riffs over subtle keyboards and piano lend a wistful and shimmering back beach sensibility to the song, the string arrangement was delightful and the harmony backing vocals were perfect, and it was a hit charting #7 locally, #16 in NZ, and #22 in the UK.After Heaven Help My Heart climbed to #22 in June ’95, Wasn’t It Good was the fourth single taken off the album, Tina shared songwriting credits with two other Australians, the gifted blind songwriter Heather Field and musician/songwriter Robert Parde (Rick Price, Vanessa Amorosi, Sophie Monk) . The song is a piano-based ballad, with subtle strings and a sensitive, reflective reading of the lyrics by Arena, inspired by the end of a lengthy relationship with her Melbourne boyfriend Fabio, and the emotional push and pull of an idealistic but ultimately doomed love affair, when reality crashes in, and lives divide “ Wouldn’t you know it/ I’ve lost my courage/ Isn’t it funny me lost for words/ Not that it really matters/ ‘Cause I know you know.” The orchestration swells with guitars at the outro to complete a classy record which ARIA deemed to be the Song of the Year in 1996.
The song charted #16 locally and the album Don’t Ask was an international hit, #2 nationally selling 700,000 copies here and stayed on the top 50 charts for 92 weeks! It also charted #12 in NZ, #11 in UK, and top forty throughout Europe, sold over 2.0 million copies globally, and picked up the ARIA Award for Album of the Year in 1995. The album’s cover art by Melbourne art director/photographer Pierre Baroni was simple but effective, a close-up shot of the doe-eyed Tina, minimal makeup, uncontrived and natural, yet a dramatic image, she was now emerging as a global success story.