ARETHA FRANKLIN: WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU SWEAT (1991)
1) Everyday People; 2) Ever Changing Times; 3) What You See Is What You Sweat; 4) Mary Goes Round; 5) I Dreamed A Dream; 6) Someone Else's Eyes; 7) Doctor's Orders; 8) You Can't Take Me For Granted; 9) What Did You Give.
All right, this is nowhere near «pretty darn bad» — this is downright terrible, easily Aretha's biggest artistic flop since La Diva, if not bigger than that. Apparently, at some point an entire army of producers, corporate songwriters, and their idiot assistants, tired of half-hearted attempts at modernization, conspired, there and then, to return Aretha to perfect glory by making her, once again, the reigning queen of hot, fashionable R'n'B.
Any single intelligent person in the lady's entourage could have, of course, remembered that Aretha never reigned over hot R'n'B; she reigned over soulful R'n'B, and dressing her up in a pimp hat, teaming her with fashionable rappers, and teaching her to open songs with a hearty "Yo gang!" ranks up there with Pavarotti dueting with Clapton on 'Holy Mother' for sheer ridiculousness. It's even worse that completely innocent songs like Sly Stone's old classic 'Everyday People' had to be destroyed in the process.
The album is equally divided between dance numbers and ballads, with a few guests, as usual, lending a cold shoulder — old pal Luther Vandross and Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers — but mostly this is Franklin's show throughout, and a consistently disappointing one. The dance numbers are rote and generic ('Mary Goes Round' is probably the mildest offender, due to some pretty sax playing and a catchy chorus), and so are the ballads, where the memorability is all but limited to the rhyme between «locket» and «pocket» on Aretha's own 'You Can't Take Me For Granted'; everything else is just power stuff without any true power.
It is hard to imagine even the lady's biggest fans getting a kick out of this crap; perhaps Babyface admirers would consider it a better deal, but why the heck would a Babyface fan want to include a fifty-year old has-been, completely «out of it», in his/her sphere of interests? And, of course, they didn't: after Through The Storm's #55 on the charts, What You Sweat stopped dead at #153. The fact that none of the twelve producers involved in the making of the record succeeded in predicting this and preventing disaster is quite telling. Thumbs down, obviously; things have rarely been any gloomier for Ms. Franklin than at that particular point in her (non-)career.