[7 November 2006]
“Greatest Hits” collections have an interesting niche in the world of music. Avid fans of the artist tend to avoid them, unless there are previously unreleased tracks. So in essence they are for the uninitiated, those people who want to get a sense of the artist’s work before diving in full steam ahead. So a good “Greatest Hits” collection ought to capture the career arc of the artist and let someone who has never heard their work understand what that artist is all about.
To that end, The Definitive Collection is definitely hit or miss. To be fair, it does contain some of LaBelle’s most important, most interesting, and most enjoyable tracks. The opener, “Down the Aisle (The Wedding Song)”, is an example. Sung with her original group The Bluebelles, it’s a classic doowop track padded with lush instrumentation. It is LaBelle’s beginning, as well as being a perfect example of her early work. The next track is LaBelle’s signature cover of “Over the Rainbow”, and she infuses the song with a unique soulful feeling.
The album follows onwards, traversing LaBelle’s career. The third track is the lone track from her 70s group LaBelle, yet shockingly, it is not her most famous track “Lady Marmalade”—however, “What Can I Do for You?” is a suitable and enjoyable replacement. Right after this track we move straight into the 80s. And while this album is about Patti herself, and a focus on her solo work is to be expected, it is glaring that some of her amazing work from the 60s and 70s is ignored.
LaBelle’s work from the 80s on however, is suitably covered. Mid-80s hits such as “New Attitude” and “Stir it Up” could sound dated to some listeners, but LaBelle’s voice carries them through. The collection also includes the inspirational “Oh People”, the Diane Warren penned track “If You Asked Me To” and “Yo Mister”, written by Prince. Throughout, the listener notices one constant, the quality of LaBelle’s voice and her ability to wrench powerful emotions from the cheesiest of lines is never lost.
The album finishes with her work from the 90s. Included are “Feels Like Another One”, “When You’ve Been Blessed (Feels Like Heaven)” and “Somebody Loves You Baby (You Know Who It Is)”, all top 5 hits from Burnin’, which garnered her a Grammy. The final track is from 2004—“New Day”, an affirmation of hope, shows that LaBelle is still going strong, and that we can expect more great music from her in the future.
The music on the album is brilliant, a testament to LaBelle’s wonderful 45 year career, a career that has brought joy to music fans everywhere. But in many ways, the title of the album feels like false advertising. A collection that calls itself “definitive” should be exactly that, definitive. It should be a comprehensive look at an artist’s career. And while in Labelle’s case that feat might be impossible to cover in 19 tracks, this album’s glaring holes show that The Definitive Collection doesn’t come close enough.