Legends have a hard time to dent the pop charts – Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle are examples of soul singers who have retained their legendary statuses, without a substantial hit record in over a decade. Diana Ross, their peer, has also managed to maintain her glittery celebrity image, though outside her core base audience (gays), she hasn’t produced a hit record in over 20 years. Her albums since the 1990’s have all tried to rectify her paucity of hits on the United States’ pop charts; each has been a carefully produced affair that has, nonetheless withered on the Billboard charts.
Ross, always looking towards trends to revitalize her career, seems to have listened to some of her colleagues, and has recorded a set of covers – love ballads from the 1950’s to the 1970’s, I Love You. The press hype that accompanied the album has Ross stating that she felt she wanted to record an album of love songs – a bit redundant, since the lion’s share of Ross’ ouevre has been romantic ballads.
Unfortunately, Ross’ new album fails, and is unlikely to produce any hits. The production is sanitary, generic and tame — almost karaoke-like. Often Ross sounds bored and uninspired, going through the motions – a real shame because her cooing soprano has lost very little of its appeal, and she sounds remarkably similar to her records of the early 1980’s and late 1970’s. It is true there is a slightly gritty aspect to her voice, but it’s aged much better than that of Ross’ contemporary Dionne Warwick (whose ravaged chords can be pitied on the singer’s new album of duets).
The songs ran a gamut of styles from rock, Broadway, pop and soul. When Ross delivers heartbreak, that’s when she shines best: “What About Love” from the Broadway musical The Color Purple is the album’s best cut — her pained, tear-stained performance is stunning. Also good is her cover of Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” – which was coincidentally written by Ross’ younger brother, T-Boy Ross. Thought it would seem a strange decision, the Queen chestnut, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” is a risky choice that works.
More often, though the music is stupefyingly dull and pristine — elegant to the point of inducing a coma. Her cover of Harry Nillson’s “Remember” is particularly bad, as is the swinging “More Than Yesterday.” The worst song, however is the record’s sole original track, “I Love You (That’s All That Really Matters).” The title perfectly encompasses the song’s tritness and triviality.
Unfortunately, there are no dance numbers on the album – a genre suited particularly well with Ross (she’s had dance hits all throughout the 1990’s even when the mainstream pop charts abandoned her). Hopefully, her lament “What About Love” will be reworked a few times for the clubs and released on maxi-single — Or hopefully Ross will start to record gutsy, anthematic ditties worthy of a true diva.