Anne Murray with a spiked hairdo? Forsaking country ballads for electronic pop?
Why not? asks the Canadian singer, who performs at Wolf Trap tonight.
"I went through years singing ballads and being successful, and you don't look a gift horse in the mouth," Murray says, explaining why she was reluctant until now to record the kind of danceable and stylishly arranged pop songs found on her new album, "Something to Talk About."
"I didn't want to turn people off. And then I got to be 40 and I said, 'What the hell am I doing?' I mean, really, life is too short to put this thing off. So I just went at it and said we've got to make a move. I guess I was just a little slower than most folks."
A change of image that entails a new look and a new sound often comes at a time when an artist's record sales are sluggish. But thanks to a loyal country music audience, Murray has nothing to worry about on that score. Her last two albums have both gone gold, and she's won more than her share of country music awards recently. Still, she wants something more.
"I'm looking for a larger audience, as we all are," she admits freely. "Once you've tasted that kind of success you don't want to settle for less. It's not greed or money; it's just getting my music out to the most people."
*And Murray is no stranger to success. Since her first hit, "Snowbird," reached the top of the charts in 1970, she's won four Grammys, 22 Canadian Juno awards and garnered nine gold albums and a couple of platinum ones. She nows lives with her husband and two children in Toronto, restricting her concert schedule to about 80 dates a year so that she can be home more often. Her family life in Canada, she says, has given her a sense of security that was missing earlier in her career.
"I guess I was afraid of success," she confides, reflecting on why she took a brief sabbatical a decade ago. "I was just really scared because people always said, 'Don't ever change,' and I thought I might get caught up with all the trappings of success and show business. I don't know why anyone as strong-willed and as determined as I was would have thought that could happen, but I really thought I could be totally weakened by success and money and all of that."
Though obviously grateful for the support country music fans have given her over the years, Murray nevertheless admits she feels a bit guilty every now and then to find herself so popular on the country charts, seeing that she never had much taste for country music when she was growing up.
"Much taste?" she asks, laughing. "I think none would be more like it. I guess I was something of a snob growing up. It wasn't that some of the early country pioneers didn't do great things, it was just that some of their voices weren't very pleasant on the ears. But when I look back on all of the early rock I was listening to by Elvis Presley and others, a lot of that would be considered country now."
In a way, she feels, her latest album, produced by a triumvirate of hot pop producers, is just a return to the kind of energetic music she enjoyed listening to as a teen-ager. And as for her new wardrobe and hairdo, Murray says that while she prefers track suits and running shoes offstage, her new look is all part of the package of selling a pop artist's music.
*"I've had some critical letters from people who've seen the way I look with my spiked hair and new clothes," she says. "But I'm a modern woman and that's the way I should look on stage. If I look great I feel great, and why shouldn't I take advantage of it?"
Murray is pleased with the public's reaction to the album so far, saying that a lot of the new uptempo songs go over particularly well in concert. Earlier this year, while performing a few concerts in Texas, she says she got her first inkling that she was on the right track.
"I was nervous because that's country country, if you know what I mean. But they liked it better than just about anyone. When people say to me, 'I don't know why you're doing this -- your last two albums have gone gold' -- I say, 'Look, I wanted to do something fun and up and danceable' . . . People don't realize that you need change."