That Cher. She really knows how to make a record the efficient way. When she wants to have a hit, she doesn't seal herself off in a dark room and arm- wrestle her muse into submission like some silly artist. She goes straight out and hires the most successful hacks she can find. As did her last two hit albums, Cher's latest, Love Hurts, finds the warbler surrounding herself with the most formulaic hit songwriters alive (Diane Warren, Desmond Child). To boot, Cher has cannily stuck with the production style most lusted after by cynical radio programmers, stressing power chords that plotz all over the place, battalions of backup singers who scream their guts out, and keyboard blasts so resonant they sound like they were recorded in the Grand Canyon. Every song approximates that most reliably commercial of half-breeds, the part-rock, part-pop power ballad.
So why, given this gluttonous buffet of calculation, is the album so much fun? This assembly-line approach (which has helped bulge the bank accounts of everyone from Bon Jovi to Chicago) is normally irritating beyond belief.
But it's different with Cher. Opportunism, for her, carries a moving history, rich in nostalgia. In the mid-'60s the singer donned folk-rock drag with Sonny, the two casting themselves as huggable hippies, the last implicitly monogamous members of the love-in generation. In the early '70s Cher scored hits that were as much variety-show skits as pop songs (the exhilaratingly dumb ''Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves''). By the late '70s she was able to dive into disco camp like a natural (''Take Me Home'').
So now, at 45, she finds it perfectly logical, even comforting, to cradle-rob today's clichés. But it's not just the reassuring depth of her artificiality that gives Cher's work conviction. There's also something fun about her voice. Never one to nurse a nuance, Cher blasts every note like a diva in full star-fit. In addition, she has so many vocal tics (especially that demented vibrato) that her voice becomes an instant caricature, one enjoyable enough to redeem even her predictable songs.
On top of that, the lyrics, too, have kitsch appeal. Three of the songs (including ''One Small Step'' and ''Love & Understanding'') are socially conscious in a way only Hollywood could conceive, tailor-made for one of those publicity-seeking charity functions. Even more functional on that score is her rendition of Kiss' ''A World Without Heroes,'' which with its plea for inspirational role models guarantees Cher will never be at a loss for something to perform on a Jerry Lewis telethon.
Still, when all the snickering is over, there's also something legitimate about Cher's new album. Her sexually autonomous persona remains one of the surest of any pop female. Though many of the new lyrics would have another singer blubbering about the creep who dumped her, Cher always sounds determined and chipper. It's that much more fun in numbers like ''Could've Been You,'' in which, seeking revenge, she gets to reach between the jerk's legs and squeeze. For all the fakery that surrounds her, Cher remains weirdly genuine; an earnest sellout who bless her soul knows no other way. B+