BONNIE RAITT: FUNDAMENTAL (1998)
1) The Fundamental Things; 2) Cure For Love; 3) Round & Round; 4) Spit Of Love; 5) Lover's Will; 6) Blue For No Reason; 7) Meet Me Half Way; 8) I'm On Your Side; 9) Fearless Love; 10) I Need Love; 11) One Belief Away.
You can probably already guess without scrolling that Fundamental will be anything but. "Let's get back to the fundamental things", the first track incites us, but if so, what's up with the production? Its «moaning» guitar hook may have a certain primal potential, but everything else is just the same old cozily packaged gloss, as overseen by Bonnie herself, her new co-producers Tchad Blake and Mitchell Froom, and her latest big bunch of assistant songwriters, too numerous to mention — loaded with songwriting and playing regalia to boot, but boring.
Perhaps what they really want to say is that Fundamental takes a sharp turn from the primarily commercial sound of the previous albums back into blues territory. Or, more precisely, just «takes a turn» — the word ʽsharpʼ is better not used in any descriptive Bonnie Rait chronology. Maybe so: the album feels bluesier on the whole, with no adult contemporary ballads on it and only one cod-reggaeified number to close out the proceedings (ʽOne Belief Awayʼ). If that is an achievement, feel free to rate Fundamental much higher than Nick Of Time and its offspring. If you do not care all that much for the way Bonnie Raitt plays the blues (in the studio, at least), feel free to pass up on it like on everything else.
The closest that the record actually comes to some real fire is probably on ʽSpit Of Loveʼ, a self-written song that talks about the «aggressive» side of love business and tries to create a suitable atmosphere, with deep dark basslines, threatening electric piano, and «howling» lead guitar parts which are probably the most experimental thing that Raitt had done on guitar in God-knows-how-many years. Towards the end, when she adds some playful vocal howling as well, it almost manages to sound spooky for a little bit. And even so, there is always that hard-to-define something that prevents the song from crossing the threshold of greatness. What is it? Why is the similarly styled ʽRun Through The Jungleʼ a Fogerty masterpiece and this one just one of the more decent Bonnie Raitt tracks? No idea. Just intuition.
Still, on a scale of A and B, where B = «awfully bland, spoiled by too much sentimentality and production gloss» and A = «listenable, mildly tasteful, instantly forgettable», which seems to pretty much exhaust the range of Bonnie Raitt in her post-alcohol days, Fundamental is a bona fide A all the way. The Los Lobos cover ʽCure For Loveʼ has some Chicago-style shrill electric guitar soloing; the Willie Dixon cover ʽRound & Roundʼ is friendly acoustic dance-blues (those soporific "round and round and round..." vocal harmonies really have to go, though); John Hiatt's ʽLovers Willʼ has probably the best pure slide guitar solo on the album, one of those reminders that the lady has to do an instrumental album dedicated to the art of slide playing before she goes; and ʽI Need Loveʼ, by Joey Spampinato, is kinda funny, set as it is to the ʽGet Backʼ rhythm and featuring a fairly unorthodox approach to soloing for a Bonnie Raitt song (as if somebody were messing with a harpsichord from the inside of the instrument for a few bars).
This is still not really enough for a proper thumbs up, but at least the quality curve perks up a little bit — at the same time as Raitt's commercial potential began to drop down again, what with the album only going to No. 17 (it still managed to reach platinum status, but not multi-platinum as its predecessors): apparently, a large subset of Bonnie's admirers was not too pleased about the lack of plasticine-heavenly ballads, so they all went to buy Eric Clapton's Pilgrim instead. Which does remind me that, as tepid as these Raitt albums are, I'd rather have her retro attitude all the way than the horrendous attempts to «modernize» one's roots-rock sound like the one that pretty much cut the throat of Clapton's recording career with Pilgrim.