Because age has taken its toll on his voice, Luciano Pavarotti has reconfigured his career to obviate having to expose its limitations to more discriminating audiences. Thus the ongoing saga of that supergroup, the Three Tenors (the operatic equivalent of Blind Faith or Crosby, Stills, and Nash), and his Pavarotti & Friends albums featuring such pop artists as Sting, the Neville Brothers, Suzanne Vega,Jon Bon Jovi, the Spice Girls, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Joan Osborne, Elton John, Bryan Adams, and, in one inspired moment, a “Nessun dorma” that brought together U2 and Michael Bolton. Well, yipes.
This package continues the tradition of mixing contemporary faves (Mariah Carey, Ricky Martin) with stars who have had their day (Lionel Richie, Joe Cocker, B.B. King), forcing some really gaudy orchestration upon them, and letting Pavarotti sit in as the urge strikes. This means that he does something entirely strange with “The Thrill is Gone,” a version that does little to the credit of either Pavarotti, B.B. King, or Lucille. And if you have been looking forward sadistically to Pavarotti’s duet with Joe Cocker on “You Are So Beautiful,” you get what you wanted, but will have to wait till you’re writhing on Satan’s pitchfork to get what you deserve. And someone should smack Boyzone, partly because of their gut-turning take on “You Needed Me,” which makes you recall just how sincerely funky Anne Murray was, but mainly just because.
What works? God help me, but Mariah Carey and Ricky Martin. This is the kind of shamelessly over-the-top stuff they were put on earth to do. (The constantly cheering crowd, a distraction at other times, is entirely appropriate here, the background noise that “My All,” let’s say, needs to be complete.) Gloria Estefan is a revelation, as she almost always is (your memory of her Top 40 hits makes you forget how good she can be). And that’s about it.
Here’s the deal: This CD ends with “We Are the World” and there is a children’s choir that pops up now and again to rattle your nerves. Those things ought to tell you right off whether you can abide having this in the CD player or whether you might find yourself buying it out of altruism.
If you support the cause here but can’t bring yourself to listen to the music, send a donation to: War Child (Co-operative Bank, 80 Cornhill, London, EC3V 3NJ, UK, Account number: 65026139, Sort code: 08-02-28) or find out more by visiting its Web site (www.warchild.org).