Tuesday, November 9, 2010

When Tina Turner Was My Artist Of The Month, I Started With Tina! A Disappointing Compilation.

The Good: Good vocals, Decent new songs
The Bad: Almost completely redundant
The Basics: Good Tina Turner songs, but almost entirely recycled from a prior compilation, Tina!: Her Greatest Hits is a disappointment for listeners.

This past March, my Artist Of The Month for review and personal growth was Tina Turner. When I decided upon Tina Turner to delve into, I was excited in no small part because I actually have one of Turner’s albums, her two-disc compilation from 2004 All The Best (click here for that review!). It is unfortunate, then, that I started the month off with Tina!, a one-disc compilation album that has me literally scratching my head and asking “What is the point?!” After all, only a few years prior to the release of this compilation, Turner had released a two-disc collection of her essential hits. What, then, was the point of a similar compilation with only two new songs?

In fact, anyone who has All The Best would do fine to avoid this. Of the eighteen songs on this album, two are brand new, one was not on All The Best, and two are alternate (live) versions of songs that were. All of the rest of the songs on here were songs presented on the other compilation and one gets a lot more (that album has thirty-four tracks). Come to think of it, despite the quality of the two new songs, this compilation just seems like an obvious cashgrab and given how little of Turner’s works are her own writing, it seems especially cheap for her to follow compilations with more compilations (to be fair, I think there was a live album in between).

With only 18 tracks occupying 76:26 on c.d., Tina!: Her Greatest Hits is a somewhat obvious compilation from Tina Turner which might not showcase many of her talents outside singing, but it is representative of her body of work as it stood a few years back. As such, Turner is not credited with writing any of the songs on the album, save “Nutbush City Limits,” which is not even one of her very best songs of all time. Still, Tina Turner performs the lead vocals on each and every song and she clearly makes that work on some of the live tracks. She does not play any musical instruments on the album, nor was she involved in the production of Tina!

Instrumentally, Tina Turner’s songs on Tina! are generally very produced and are firmly rooted in the pop-rock end of Turner’s repertoire. While there are a few folksy early tunes like “River Deep – Mountain High” and the funky “Nutbush City Limits,” more of the songs have an operatic rock and roll quality to them, like “GoldenEye” and “We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome).” These songs are heavy in guitars or keyboards which Turner’s vocals compete with. The songs generally have catchy or recognizable tunes which one might find themselves humming at odd intervals, as I recently found myself humming “Private Dancer” after listening to this album. The two new songs tend to be up-tempo pop-rock numbers which sound more familiar than like growth for Turner.

In fact, “It Would Be A Crime” has an almost identical musical formula to “I Don't Wanna Fight.” And while I love “I Don't Wanna Fight,” that Turner let a new song that sounds stylistically so alike get billed as her big new track is problematic. “I'm Ready” has a repetitive quality that Tina Turner fans have not likely heard since her song “What You Get Is What You See,” which illustrates that Turner can still hold her own against pretty blaring guitars accompanying her.

Vocally, Tina Turner has one of the broadest vocal ranges of any musical artist living today. As I tried to nail down her range for this review, I found an article where an audiologist was going through recordings of Turners and was able to illustrate that she has a range which spans four octaves, so she is not simply a “mezzo-soprano” or anything else. On “Private Dancer,” she illustrates an incredible amount of that range by starting high, plummeting to some of her lowest notes and then soaring again. Similarly, she goes high enough to shatter glass on “GoldenEye,” but she has a perfectly melodic voice on most of her songs, like “Let’s Stay Together.” What helps to separate or define Turner’s vocals is that her voice is always emotive and articulate. So, even as she growls her way through portions of “Nutbush City Limits,” all of the words may be easily understood. The only time her voice shows real strain is on her live rendition of “Addicted To Love.”

Lyrically, Tina Turner is all over the board, but more often than not, she sings about relationships and the angst that comes from love. Her songs tend to be dominated by the search for love or understanding the importance of love. With her new song, for example, she sings “Now, I've got a dream and it started this way / I get myself early up in the morning / And it shines on my face / Anytime you can find a reason and a place / It'd be a crime / A crime if the sun forgot to shine / A crime if the stars forgot to align / It would be a crime / If we don't find a way / To love somebody“ (“It Would Be A Crime”) and she illustrates a pretty clear message.

But several of her songs are not about the loss or longing for love, they are about the sheer enjoyment of being in love. It’s pretty clear what Turner is saying with the lines “I was thinking about parking the other night / We was out on a back road / Me and my baby was just getting right / All our systems on overload / Radio blasting in the front seat / Turning out the music fine / And we was snuggled up in the back seat / Making up for lost time / Steamy windows / Zero visibility / Steamy windows / Coming from the body heat” (“Steamy Windows”). The nice thing about even Turner’s obviously sexual songs is that they do not come across as smutty. Tina Turner is all about singing about the love and desire and on Tina!: Her Greatest Hits, Turner hits her mark well.

But more than anything else, what Tina Turner sings about is the desire to be treated fairly in relationships. This resonates well even through simple rhyme schemes or plaintive repetitions of lines like “What I can’t feel I surely cannot see, why can’t you be good to me / And if it’s not real I do not wish to see, why can’t you be good to me” (“Better Be Good To Me”). Turner does an excellent job with the material she is given to use and it’s obvious to see why poets would want her presenting their material. She makes even predictable rhymes sound good.

But, ultimately, despite this being a good mix, it is mostly a mix that has been done before by Tina Turner and it is too tough a sell for serious listeners or fans to want to pick up. Tina Turner has enough talent to present new material, not mostly recycled works like this one.

The best song is “I Don't Wanna Fight,” the low point is “Acid Queen.”

For other strong female vocalists and artists, please check out my reviews of:
Many Great Companions - Dar Williams
Fearless Love - Melissa Etheridge
Laws Of Illusion - Sarah McLachlan


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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