ARETHA FRANKLIN: WITH EVERYTHING I FEEL IN ME (1974)
1) Without Love; 2) Don't Go Breaking My Heart; 3) When You Get Right Down To It; 4) You'll Never Get To Heaven; 5) With Everything I Feel In Me; 6) I Love Every Little Thing About You; 7) Sing It Again, Say It Again; 8) All Of These Things; 9) You Move Me.
The most remarkable thing about this album is, arguably, its sleeve picture, on which Aretha, first time ever, resorts to a bit of sexploitation — quite a long distance from the prudish cover on Amazing Grace. It did not help; the record was a commercial disaster, and initiated a series of flops that only subsided when Luther Vandross took care of the lady, but that would not be coming up until almost a decade later. Worse, it is the first in a series of Aretha albums that, as of now, still have to see a legitimate CD release (my version is a fan-made LP rip with all the required hissing and crackling in place — sweet memories of days gone by).
Understandably, the record is indeed mediocre. But it does not follow exactly the silky-boredom formula of Let Me In Your Life; the artist, the band, and the producers make a serious effort to restore the balance between upbeat and fluffy, and, even though by that time the classic aura of hot late Sixties R'n'B had all but blown away, with strings leading an assault on guitars, glossy, pasteurized production sucking the breath of life out of the rough edges of yesterday, and smooth disco rhythms pummeling out the unpredictable improv aspect of funk, some of these tunes still rock out nicely to shades and memories of ye olde Atlantic R'n'B.
The best song is almost unquestionably sister Carolyn's 'Say It Again', a cool funky sermon with an imaginative wah-wah / brass / organ arrangement, in which Aretha becomes a bit player on the verge of getting forever engulfed in the forest, but who cares if the musicians are so obviously on fire? 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart' (nothing to do with the Elton John hit, which had not even been written yet) is faster and closer to the nascent disco style in terms of beat and strings use, but is still harmless danceable fun. And the self-penned title track should be allowed to grow on you; it is one of the hottest numbers she ever wrote, or, at least, the backing band has done everything in its power to make it so by adding strange subtle touches (like, for instance, using what sounds like an orchestra of slide guitars — sic! — instead of the actual strings).
Against this background, perfunctory ballads such as 'You Move Me' cannot do too much harm; and, as an added bonus, those behind the wheels suddenly remember that they are actually recording one of the most phenomenal voices in popular music, and let the lady blossom on cool codas to such otherwise simply okayish songs as 'When You Get Right Down To It' (the echo effort on her belting at the last minute works really great with the bass strings) and 'You'll Never Get To Heaven' (wonderful acappella finish as the instruments fade away).
The somewhat successful single was the opening ballad 'Without Love': a moderately memorable pop ballad whose organ introduction happens to be more emotional, however, than Franklin's own singing — hardly the best choice, I'd say; if the idea behind the album was to toughen up her flabbified sound, 'Without Love' is one of the least convincing tunes behind that concept (even the Stevie Wonder cover, in my opinion, one of the weakest things on here overall, sounds tougher than 'Without Love'). Regardless, the entire record is well worth getting to know, and, at the very least, it is hardly any worse than contemporary (female) R'n'B from 1974. If anything, Aretha was deteriorating together with the times, not against them. Thumbs up.