Diana Ross recorded some of the most notable records of the past 100 years. Her work with the Supremes and as a solo artist constitutes some of the greatest love songs ever made. Despite her musical protagonists’ age or situation, Ross displayed a combination of strength and fragility that revealed the complex nature of human feelings. Part of this was due to her youth. She started singing as a young girl. But even as she matured, Ross conveyed the innocence of one who saw the world ingenuously. There was that part of her sound that seemed to come from that more naïve and hopeful place.
That’s not true of Ross’ latest album, Thank You. She mostly sounds tired, and her voice seems wrapped in gauze. The record is grandiosely overproduced, so Ross often competes with walls of instrumentation and always loses. Consider cuts like “If the World Just Danced”, “Let’s Do It”, and “In Your Heart”, all of which she co-wrote. The songs seem static and tired despite the dance beats and polyrhythms. Ross carefully annunciates the words, but she doesn’t infuse them with feeling. She comes off like a pro, reading from a teleprompter more than the talented diva she is.
Then some tracks evoke Ross’ past, like the title song and Siedah Garret’s “The Answer’s Always Love”. “Thank You” has a melody and refrain that frequently recalls Ross’ 1970 Motown hit “You’re All I Need to Get By” (written by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson). The song was an ode to one’s soulmate. Ross co-wrote this cut which is also a tribute to the one’s true love, but while the original was full of heartfelt detail, the new one is generic with lines like, “Thank you for the smile / Thank you for the tears / Thank you for being who you are, for all those years.” Lyrics like this drain the sentiments of feeling.
Garret is best known for co-penning Michael Jackson’s call for individual social responsibility and love, “The Man in the Mirror”. “The Answer’s Always Love” is a tribute to Jackson and concerns similar themes to “The Man in the Mirror” (i.e., “What if there were no problems that we couldn’t solve? / What if the only thing we needed to do was get involved? / That’s when we’d all know we are one.”). The song’s presence reminds one of Ross’ connections to the Gloved One. She sings it in a voice reminiscent of her old protégé’s singing.
Ross considers the album a “songbook of love”, and indeed all 13 cuts are explicitly about love. Other titles include “Beautiful Love”, “Come Together”, and “(In Love) I Still Believe”. As such, all the cliches about love of all types are covered. However, there’s little passion in her romanticisms. Ross recorded the album in her home studio and is perhaps a little too comfortable. While I only wish this amazing artist good things in life, maybe she needs some more trouble in her music to keep it more interesting. After all, when she had the blues, she got an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role and a number one album!