Aretha Franklin Is Enthusiastic, Flawed On ‘Great Diva Classics’
No matter the criticism, Aretha Franklin’s musicianship justifies her status as the Queen of Soul. Unfortunately, the queen falls short of the best occasionally. Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics is a prime example. Enthusiastic and energetic, Great Diva Classics is also flawed. It’s neither terrible nor particularly great.
“At Last” opens traditionally without excessive musical liberties. The conservative approach is respectable. Previously, Franklin has had the tendency to overdo musically. Similarly, on Gladys Knight cover “Midnight Train To Georgia,” Franklin stays true to the original. Franklin avoids the middle of the road characterization.
“Rolling in the Deep (The Aretha Version)” ‘shocked the world.’ To some degree, the energy and passion are impressive. Franklin still has some mad pipes. On the other hand, “Rolling” suffers from the overabundance of autotune. Furthermore, the transition into soul staple “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is odd. Franklin’s soulful nuances are a pro, but “The Aretha Version” doesn’t supplant the original.
“I Will Survive (The Aretha Version)” is more successful than Franklin’s version of “Rolling in the Deep.” Still, breaking into Destiny’s Child from Gloria Gaynor‘s disco anthem is suspect. Franklin only briefly references “Survivor,” and there is common ground.
“People” gives Franklin a big ballad. Most of the time, it works in her favor. Unfortunately, the cover of Barbra Streisand‘s classic is too slow and blasé. Franklin hits the high notes and executes her signature riffs, but lethargy detracts from the performance. “No One” works, with tropical cues infused. The original had a dash of tropical/reggae styling. The evolution feels natural.
The inclusion of “I’m Every Woman / Respect” isn’t a surprising choice. The pieces are in place, but Franklin’s overindulges in combining songs and prolonged duration. “Teach Me Tonight” is certainly a different sound for Franklin, but she performs the American standard soundly. Ad-libs shine in this instance. Penultimate classic “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” receives a predictable, soulful take. “Nothing Compares2 U” receives a jazzy treatment from Franklin. Ambitious and a stark contrast to Sinead O’Connor‘s definitive version, it’s too much of a stretch.
Ultimately, Sings the Great Diva Classics is a mixed bag. The glimpses of Franklin’s best days are perceptible. Also perceptible is the awful auto-tuned drench melodic line in “Rolling in the Deep.” Still, compared to Franklin’s previous album, Sings the Great Diva Classics is a step up.
Favorites: “At Last,” “Midnight Train To Georgia,” “Teach Me Tonight”