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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Aretha Franklin: La Diva


ARETHA FRANKLIN: LA DIVA (1979)

1) Ladies Only; 2) It's Gonna Get A Bit Better Now; 3) What If I Should Ever Need You; 4) Honey I Need Your Love; 5) I Was Made For You; 6) Only Star; 7) Reasons Why; 8) You Brought Me Back To Life; 9) Half A Love; 10) The Feeling.

Totally worthless crap — one of those few fortunate spots where critical sense, bad taste instincts, and public opinion all come together in a rare moment of unity. The sleeve photo was probably suf­ficient in itself to repulse most of the old fans and bore stiff all the potential new ones: the Lady reclining on a red sofa in a Donna Summeresque position, sexy slit dress, cowboy boots, cheesy coiffure, and album title spelled out in bright shiny stars all present. A closer look at the Lady's face, how­ever, reveals that the Lady has absolutely no idea what exactly she is doing on that sofa; the idea of marketing Aretha Franklin off as a sexy disco chick is comparable in its idiocy to a heavy metal image for Pat Boone.

To be perfectly fair, again, there is not all that much disco stuff on the album, but what there is is truly disgusting, including arguably the worst song ever recorded by the Queen, 'Only Star', which truly has to be heard to be disbelieved — or, better, to remind ourselves why disco (a genre that has, since its downfall, been partially rehabilitated because its few successes have lingered in memory where its many gross-out horrors have faded away) truly deserved all the public hate; with atrocious, bimbo-style delivered, lines like "I'm gonna be the only star tonight at the disco", Ms. Franklin has introduced her own small contribution to the shift in standards, and thank her very much for that. The one thing I totally cannot understand is that 'Only Star' is credited, of all people, to Are­tha Franklin: she wrote this garbage herself? Why?..

The lead single, 'Ladies Only', was also self-penned — and almost as awful. It thinks it's clever — it's a trick song, see: one minute it's a slow-moving syrupy ballad, then whoosh, off go the veils, and there goes the brandest new disco tune from that piece of real hot stuff, the sexy Aretha «Burst-Yer-Pants» Franklin. It might have been funny, had it not all been so sad.

La Diva was produced by somewhat legendary hitmaster Van McCoy, who died of a heart attack a few months before the album was even released (that should probably give you an extra hint on the quality); out of all the disco songs on it, his 'The Feeling' is probably the best one (some cool Saturday Night Feveresque orchestration, at least), which is not saying much. The best song ov­erall is probably Lalome Washburn's 'It's Gonna Get A Bit Better', whose muscular funky arran­gement kicks tons of shit from all the inane disco on here, not to mention Aretha being overall far better used to this style — any normal record executive, upon listening even once to the final product, would have immediately thrown out half and make the lady record more songs like this Washburn number, but hey, we all knew that disco would last forever back then, didn't we?

Thumbs down without question, and chalk that album up as one of the top 10 reasons why disco had to die — it all but destroyed Franklin's artistic reputation without even compensating her on the material level (La Diva was one of the poorest selling albums in her career), and finally seve­red her ties with the Atlantic motherlode as well. Not that anybody really cared by then: Atlantic's golden days were over, and, with R'n'B standards moving steadily into the «faceless automaton» department, with hits that might as well be performed by machines rather than people, there was hardly any chance that the label would strike that gold one more time.

1 comment:

  1. Even if I was 16 in 1979 and thus very interested in pop/rock I never heard this album. On your recommendation I tried Only Star and I can assure it is by far not as bad as Van McCoy's own hit The Hustle.

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