album review

Aretha Butchers The Great Diva Classics – An Album Review

So you might remember this being a thing that happened:

Aretha’s Wet N’ Wild Eye Shadow.

Aretha’s wobbly knockers sitting sideways like boys in the days.

Aretha’s minty green discount prom dress.

Cissy’s perpetual over it face and lack of effort.

It’s amazing.

Well all of this was leading up to a new album release!!!

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So this is a cover of the “great diva classics” and Aretha is here to show you how she does it in 2014.  I’m going to listen to what can only be a flaw-free album.

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I’ll be rating each song on a scale of 1 to 5 Aretha Jigs.  One Aretha Jig being a live Jhene Aiko performance.  Five Aretha Jigs being this Respect performance. Let’s get started!

Track 1: At Last (originally performed by Etta James)

This one starts out pretty well.  Aretha seems comfortable and ready to slay.  But then, we get some of Aretha’s slight liberties where she slides up an octave. But you know this is nice.  Aretha’s trademark rasp and lisp are here, but there was some restraint here.  Both in the performance and the post-production (you’ll see what I mean later).  This is a good start to the album!

Rating: 4/5 Aretha Jigs

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Track 2: Rolling In The Deep – Aretha’s Version (originally performed by Adele)

You’ve already laughed at that live performance.  But how does the recorded version hold up?

Not too well actually.  The autotune on her voice in the verses are strange.  I like her performance during the pre-chorus for the most part.  But I just don’t follow where Aretha was going with the arbitrary octave jumps.  Her slides in the chorus are just as hilarious as they were live.

WE COULD HAVE HAD IT aaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWWWWWLLLLL!

ROLLING IN THE DeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEPPPPPPP!

But I can’t recommend this for any reason other than the lols.  There’s so much happening and it’s such a tonal departure from the original.  That doesn’t mean I’m not going to listen to it over and over again.

The bridge into Ain’t No Mountain High Enough is an interesting choice.  But they’ve autotuned her belting and it’s just so weird and, sorry to say, bad.  It’s just bad.  This is not a good song.  But it is an amazing one.

Rating: 2/5 Aretha Jigs

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Track 3: Midnight Train to Georgia (originally by Gladys Knight & The Pips)

Ooh I love this song!

::starts bopping::

“aHeeeeeeLL AAAAAAAAAYYYYEEEE”

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This one is going to be a hard one.  Part of it is that I absolutely adore the huskiness of Gladys Knight’s voice and her vocal performance on this song.  Aretha staying in her upper register does not fit this song even a little.

Once I get over that tragic mistake, it’s listenable.  The beat is comfortable and the background singers are killing it.  Aretha’s voice is much more natural here than in Rolling In The Deep.  Her ad libs as the song closes is some of the best stuff on the album so far.  It’s not too bad.

Rating: 3/5 Aretha Jigs

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Track 4: I Will Survive – The Aretha Version (originally by Gloria Gaynor)

Okay this is the first song that should really use her upper register.  Is that auto-tune???

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What is the jazz hi-hat??

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Okay.  It speeds ups after the first chorus.  I love the scatting! For the most part, once the disco beat kicks in, this is good.  Not great, but solid.  Aretha could have kept that ending run.

Wait, is that Survivor by Destiny’s Child?!?!?!? Okay, that is how a mash-up is done.  Wait, is this about her broken engagement from Catfish??? Okay Aretha! Sing from your pain!

Whomever thought it was a good idea to use effects on Aretha Franklin’s voice should be put out to pasture.  Her voice may not be at peak, but what in the absolute fuck? Leave it as it is.

This song has all the parts to be a good cover.  I like the scatting and Aretha’s mashup.  But I hate that the auto-tune and I especially HATE the intro.

Rating: 1/5 Aretha Jig 

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Track 5: People (Originally by Barbra Streisand)

Now I’m not as familiar with this song in comparison with the first four tracks.  But I think that it truly benefits from a more laissez-faire approach to the production.  The slower songs let Aretha be Aretha.  That’s all we really need.  My only complaints here are that I wish she had taken a bit more care to enunciate the song.  With the lisp on each “people,” the message loses just a hint of its power.  The other is that there’s a slight thinness to her voice in the later parts of the songs.  I wish it had a little more power to it.

Overall, I like this and it befits the Queen of Soul.

Rating: 4/5 Aretha Jigs

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Track 6: No One (originally by Alicia Keys)

Umm, is that the Casio keyboard Reggae 2 beat?

Wow…this intro…

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It doesn’t get any better from there honestly.  This is a travesty.  The voice is processed with in an inch of its life.  The beat is just awful. The vocal performance does not fit at all.

This is the first song that is actively terrible.  Yikes.

Rating: 0/5 Aretha Jigs

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Track 7: I’m Every Woman/Respect (Originally by Chaka Khan and Aretha Franklin)

Pump up the groove! Okay, this is already miles better than No One.  This song fits so much better on her voice.  I also love that the first voice stays in one octave.  It’s rare that she doesn’t arbitrarily jump up the octave.  (See the second verse and chorus).

Even with that complaint, it’s still good.  I’m bopping you know!

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Now, the Respect portion of the song doesn’t work at all.  I mean, did you click that video I linked earlier in the post?  Now that was over 50 years ago. But once you listen to that, it’s hard to listen to this.  That said it’s still good, and I almost upped the score to five jiggin’ Arethas because I love a good key change.

Rating: 4/5 Aretha Jigs

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Track 8: Teach Me Tonight (This was performed by everyone, but let’s go with Dinah Washington)

Ooh, the slower songs are better.  And this is no exception.  The simple production really lets her shine.  Though the touches of autotune are completely out of place.

But this is beautiful.  This is the kind of cover I want to hear from Aretha Franklin.  Soulful, simple, all about her voice.

Best song on the album, by a wide margin

Rating: 5/5 Aretha Jigs

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Track 9: You Keep Me Hangin’ On (originally by The Supremes)

Okay, the opening is promising.  I love that Aretha performed with a bit of sweetness in her voice (a lovely nod to The Boss).

I like this a lot.  It’s much more relaxed and truly uses Aretha’s gifts appropriately.  Minor pitch correction.  Minimal octave jumps until Aretha is allowed to just go at it.  There’s such restraint here and the album shines in those moments.  Now excuse me while I bop my shoulders.

Another of the finer moments of the album.  Not as good as Teach Me Tonight, but solid all around.

Rating: 5/5 Aretha Jigs (I originally had this at a 4, but I honestly don’t have any real complaints)

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Track 10: Nothing Compares 2 U (originally by Sinead O’Connor)

Did you all know this was written by Prince?  Great diva classic, indeed!

Okay, this is jazzy. With a big band arrangement.  This isn’t what I was expecting.  I like  it, I think.

So I need to actually write about this song.  It’s so far outside of what I was expecting that I’m struggling to write about it.  There’s no way to compare this to the original.  That’s actually smart.  I’m not so sure that the song itself fits the production.  It’s an admirable attempt, but my brain just associates this lyric with Sinead’s buzzcut and lone tear.

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Taking it from  an sparse, emotional ballad to this upbeat, sassy song.

Don’t let my critique take away for Aretha’s singing.  I actually think this is her strongest vocal performance on the entire album.  So soulful and full of life.  The beginning of the album has this weird feeling of trying to modernize Aretha.  I don’t know about you all but that’s not what I want.  She has a voice that is representative of that bygone era and we don’t need to plasticize it, even if it’s not in prime condition.

Rating: 4/5 Aretha Jigs

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Overall Rating: 3/5 Aretha Jigs

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I like this album way more than I thought I would going into this review.  After that Rolling In The Deep, what possible opinion could I have??

But as I started to mention in the last song critique, the strengths of this album lie in letting Aretha be Aretha.  She’s not Kesha.  She doesn’t need vocal effects.  Give her a standard or a song from an era where covers of covers were number one hits and let her do her thing.  Despite age, Aretha still has a remarkable ability to convey emotion in her voice and to really use her voice as an instrument.  Look at the difference in her performance on Keep Me Hanging On versus the power on the opening verse of People.  Most of your famous singers these days are incapable of that versatility and it is why the divas are revered.

The album goes wrong when we try to modernize Aretha to make her “palatable” for the current music scene.  The covers of Rolling In the Deep and No One are easily the worst parts of the album.  Someone with good sense could have stopped this and steered her towards more classic sounding songs or at least better production as it relates to these two.

The other issue that I may not have raised is that there definitely is something cheap sounding about the album.  I mentioned that there are some pre-packaged sounding beats here and there.  Again, this isn’t as big a release in 2014 as say a Taylor Swift album (I just vomited in my mouth typing that). So there’s not going to be as much of an investment in the production on behalf of the label.  This can work for certain artists, but since most classic songs rely on a hearty instrumentation, it weakens the song rather than adding to it.

Go take a listen and let me know what you think! I’m off to bop to Hoodrat Tunes.  My basic side has been neglected.

A Tribute: Can’t Take Me Home

Happy Saturday!  It’s time to pay tribute to another one of the most important pop culture moments for Team Trash.

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This album came out my freshman year of high school and was one of my first non-gospel album purchases.  I loved that her name was P!nk and that she had pink hair.  I loved the subtle grit in her voice.  I love the obvious R&B influence.  This was the soundtrack to part of my life.  So I wanted to take the time and let you know why this album slays, snatches, and scalps.  Let’s get started.

Track 1: Split Personality

Here we open with a song with a slight preview into what Pink would give us on the second album.  The slick, schizophrenic production with its starts and stops are fantastic.  The bass line goes.  I’m a sucker for call and response in pop music, so to hear Pink’s “inner voice” talking back to her while she sings about the quirks of her personality really get me.

“Aren’t you glad you have someone to talk to?”

I think I really relate to this song because I feel like I’m different people at any given moment.  When the chips are down, I definitely run the risk of spiraling out of control.  “Can they see my many personalities?” is actually a constant fear for me, even though I cultivated these personalities through careful observation and the knowledge that code switching would be necessary as an African American in the corporate world.

Another thing, we all know that Pink has this big voice, but she’s pulled herself back and is allowing her vocal control to do the work.  The harmonies are on point.  It’s a fantastic opener to a great album.

Track 2: Hell With Ya

The first bitter ex-girlfriend song from Pink is another bop.  It’s very early aughts but I think that Pink has the attitude to pull this off.  This is the kind of song early-Destiny’s Child would have killed.

The transition of being happily over this man to seeing the way he treats his new lady friend is one that’s not often explored.  Especially in the bridge, where she starts to feel some type of way because she can’t figure out what makes this girl deserving of real romance while he treated her like shit.  Who has not been there?  And don’t even get me started on her delivery.  It’s life.

This song also has one of my singular favorite lines in music:

“So I hear, I met the wench before.  Remember that time we went to Pizza Hut and you told me she was your cousin!”

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I. FELL. OUT. 

Track 3: Most Girls

We’ve reached Pink’s second single from the album.  Another Pink staple is the “strong, independent woman” genre.  While this song is completely fantastic, it’s not my personal favorite from the album.  The bass drum hits that lead the chorus, the operatic stings in the bridge, Pink’s ad libs, and the synth loop is all perfection.

The counter-melody leading into the final chorus is another spot-on production moment.  Love this song.

Track 4: There You Go

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This was the moment that I fell in love with Alecia Moore.  I remember waking up for school on time and rushing to get ready just to see this video on MTV.  I could listen to this song all DAMN DAY.

Pink’s palpable sass is EVERYWHERE on this song.  Her vocals are LIFE ACQUIRED.  Who hasn’t had that moment where you’re like Bye Ashy! to your raggedy ex for being raggedy?  This song is the perfect embodiment of that feeling.

The “Now You’re Begging Me to Stay” into the 2nd chorus is just a sampling of Pink’s perfect ad lib placement on this record.  I honestly could go on and on about this song, but you know it!  You love it.  You performed this at karaoke last Saturday.

Track 5: You Make Me Sick

More Sassy Pink! This time, the man is driving her crazy sexually instead of with his lies and betrayal.  The operatic notes are back and the bass is grooving.

I love this song because it gives Pink’s tone a chance to serve us sex kitten which is always good fun and rare.

“The way he licked his lips and touched my hips, I KNEW THAT HE WAS SICK!”

COME ON ALECIA! ::throws something:: Sometimes we do get weak and that man-friend catches us off guard.  I love this one.  Fun fact, it was featured on the Save The Last Dance soundtrack.

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Track 6: Let Me Let You Know

The first slow jam on the album and it’s the weakest of the offerings, unfortunately.  I think that taking Pink’s sass away leaves this song a bit tepid.

The song is very pretty and definitely listenable.  Her vocals slay, especially as the song draws to a close.  But this song doesn’t feel like the same voice as the rest of the album.  She’s leaving and she’s sad, but there’s no aggression to it.  It’s too soft.

Track 7: Love Is Such A Crazy Thing

A personal favorite.  The harmonies.  THE HARMONIES!

The raw emotion in her voice.  While this song is emotional in a similar way to ‘Let Me Let You Know,’ the song feels way more genuine.  She stretches herself vocally. This is the same girl who would sing ‘There You Go’ and ‘You Make Me Sick’.  The sass is back, but these are the thoughts of a more complex woman which this album paints Pink as.

Track 8: Private Show

Another classic.  I keep going back to the phrase “sass” but I live for this Pink.  You can’t hide me!  I’m not just your little sex game.  Pink’s lower register is on display.  This song is super listenable.  I just adore it.

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Track 9: Can’t Take Me Home

Aww Pink, we were jamming.  The namesake for the album is actually my least favorite track on the album.  This song has great moments and I want to love it, but I feel like the production is too light.  It’s like Pink is singing about how “dangerous” she is, how tempting she is and how this man can’t share her with his bland, disapproving family.  It’s not a strong enough statement for a girl like Pink.  But she tries her best.

Track 10: Stop Falling

FLAWLESS.  The emotional resonance.  Pink’s vocal performance.  The softness in her voice.  The single best moment on the album.  There’s no words that I can say to justify the brilliance here.

Track 11: Do What U Do

This strong, independent woman jam is another listenable song, but after the amazing moment that was Stop Falling, it’s more on the meh side of things.  I don’t hate it and it’s fun to bop to as you drive.  But more on the filler side.

Track 12: Hiccup

Now we’re back on track.  Love the sass.  Love the delivery.  Love the production.  The hi-hat?  The beat is off the charts.  The “I’s” in the background liven it up.  Pink has some fabulously accurate runs while still using that trademark rasp.  This is what Christina Aguilera wants to do but can’t seem to master.

The breakdown?  “Pink don’t think before she speak! But you got me feeling, feeling, feeling, kind of weak!”

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Track 13: Is It Love?

We’ve reached the end of the album and end on a high note.  The hip hop influence is strong.  I seriously love the octave jump from the first verse to the second verse.  I love that it’s about losing your virginity and the fear and feelings that occur after.  It seriously captures that conversation perfectly.  And the breakdown???

“YOU NEVER TOLD ME ABOUT THE BIRDS AND BEES!”

Yes Pink Yes!  This is a great way to capture the defiant spirit of the album with the emotional vulnerability that Pink executes so well.

Overall Rating

I give this album a 4/5.  The high moments are flawless and the low moments are not bad, only off message.  Pink has gone on to incredible success and pays a bit of dust to this album (Pink has always wanted a more rock sound as opposed to the R&B influnces here).  She shouldn’t do.  She delivered a statement making first album and I live for it.

What’s your favorite track?  Any favorite Pink memories?  Let us know over at @ClassNTrashShow on Twitter or down in the comments section.