ARETHA FRANKLIN: LET ME IN YOUR LIFE (1974)
1) Let Me In Your Life; 2) Every Natural Thing; 3) Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing; 4) I'm In Love; 5) Until You Come Back To Me; 6) The Masquerade Is Over; 7) With Pen In Hand; 8) Oh Baby; 9) Eight Days On The Road; 10) If You Don't Think; 11) A Song For You.
A flat-out bore. So the experimental approach of the last record did not really pay off with the audiences. Big deal — you'd think she could simply go back to the unassuming, but fiery R'n'B of the Young, Gifted & Black caliber. Why, then, do we get this inane collection of generic Seventies sappy-pappy instead? Where is the music?
As the grooving bassline, the chuckling organ, and the chicken-scratchy guitars introduce the title track, one is immediately misled into the impression that this is going to be another high-spirited romp. Then, one minute into the song, all of it is gone, replaced by a soft, sleepy beat, equally soporific strings, and wedding march brass puffing — and from then on, the song never really awakens back to life, despite switching from bridge to verse melody several times.
The only other songs that rock out a wee bit are Eddie Hinton's 'Every Natural Thing' and Jerry Ragovoy's 'Eight Days On The Road' — neither one an enticing pot of honey by Aretha's usual standards, but, verily and truly, the only songs on here that save me from feeling comatose. Just about everything else is good for you only if you are a really big fan of the American Soft Ballad, 1970s style, where clichéd atmosphere always prevails over melody-writing and the Diva aspect always dominates over real emotional content.
Not that there aren't any — previously — good songs on the album; but material as diverse as 'Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing' (formerly a big, deserving hit for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell) and 'I'm In Love' (formerly a big, deserving hit for Wilson Pickett) is run through the same grinder, chopped up and mixed with the same pompous strings and wobbly keyboards, and there is nothing unpredictable about Aretha's interpretation, either. And on the other side of the business, the big hit, a cover of Stevie Wonder's then-unreleased 'Until You Come Back To Me', is a sweet, catchy little pop number, but not really suitable for Aretha's general style, plus, it's sort of shallow — Stevie wrote it in 1967, for Christ's sake, while still in his early and fully conventional years; for the Queen of Soul to make a big hit out of it as late as 1974 would be akin to the Beatles going out with a bang in 1969 by putting out 'Besame Mucho' as their last single.
Aretha's own compositions have dwindled back to two, and they are written in the exact same vein as everything else on here, i. e. completely forgettable. And then, for the final number, we get a cover of Leon Russell's 'A Song For You', which, by that point, everyone, from the Carpenters to Cher, had already covered. It is almost like a symbolic sign of submission, surpassed only by the cheap-glam look of the sleeve photo, fit, perhaps, for a Donna Summer album, but quite degrading for the likes of the Queen. The album might have — very temporarily — put Aretha back on the charts, and reinstated Atlantic's faith in her, but this is truly the turning point, beyond which the «Franklin phenomenon» finally mutates into the «Franklin legacy». Thumbs down.