Aretha Franklin • Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics • RCA • US Release Date: October 21, 2014
Who da queen – Aretha Franklin’s the queen! No matter what criticisms she’s given or who else comes into the music industry, Aretha Franklin’s voice and musical contributions will always justify her status as the Queen of Soul. That said, even a queen has albums that fall short of her best work. Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics is one of those. It’s by all means enthusiastic and energetic, something many questioned whether Aretha Franklin still possessed, but it’s also flawed. Is it terrible – no, ‘terrible’ is a harsh word. Is it great – NO, but it has its moments as well as its cons.
“At Last” opens the Great Diva Classics traditionally without an excess of liberties. This generally conservative approach is a respectable way to begin the album, considering Franklin sometimes has the tendency to ‘change things up’ too much. Similarly on the third track, a cover of Gladys Knight & The Pips‘ beloved classic “Midnight Train To Georgia,” Franklin generally stays true/close to the original. The argument against such is being ‘middle of the road’, but in both these instances, neither of these songs needs to be altered.
“Rolling in the Deep (The Aretha Version)” definitely ‘shocked the world’ upon its unveiling. To some degree, the energy and passion that Franklin delivers the song with is definitely impressive and shows that Franklin still has some mad pipes on her. On the other hand, this number suffers from an over abundance of auto tune and a very odd transition into soul staple “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” If nothing more, Franklin’s soulful nuances are a pro, but even The Queen could never outdo Adele‘s once in a lifetime classic, and that’s saying something!
“I Will Survive (The Aretha Version)” arguably is more successful than Franklin’s version of “Rolling in the Deep.” That said breaking into Destiny’s Child from Gloria Gaynor‘s disco anthem is still arguably a bit much. Franklin does only make brief reference to “Survivor” (a pro) and there is common ground.
“People” gives Franklin that big ballad that she loves and most times works in her favor. That said, this cover of Barbra Streisand‘s Classic comes over as too slow and blasé. Yes Franklin hits those high notes and does her signature riffs/ad libs, but it comes off lethargic. “No One” gets a tropically infused interpretation, which actually works. That said, “No One” had a dash of tropical/reggae styling in original form, and it naturally can evolve in that direction. Even so, don’t quite call it a hit.
The inclusion of “I’m Every Woman / Respect” isn’t a surprising choice, even if prior to hearing Franklin perform it convincingly, there were questions how effectively she’d do so. The pieces are in place by all means, though you still have to question Franklin’s overindulgence in combining songs, not to mention the five-minute duration.
“Teach Me Tonight” is certainly a different sound for Franklin, but she performs the brief, American standard unquestionably well. This cut in particular is one where her gift of ad-libs is certainly appreciated. The oomph and grit definitely recall classic Aretha. Penultimate classic “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” receives an unsurprisingly, soulful take. Any less would’ve been a let down.
“Nothing Compares2 U” receives a jazzy treatment from Franklin. Yes it’s ambitious and definitely contrasts the famed Sinead O’Connor Classic (penned by Prince), but it also seems like too much of a stretch. “Nothing Compares 2 U” is arguably one of the greatest ballads ever performed and written, and a jazz interpretation seems to take away from the original’s classicism.
Ultimately, Sings the Great Diva Classics is a mixed bag. The glimpses of Franklin’s best days are perceptible, but so is that awful auto-tuned drench melodic line in “Rolling in the Deep.” Still, compared to Franklin’s previous independent album A Woman Falling Out Of Love, this album is more familiar with more ability to be a crowd pleaser if nothing else.
Favorites: “At Last,” “Midnight Train To Georgia,” “Teach Me Tonight”