Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Entirely Mediocre Pop, Reba McEntire's Pointless Cover Album, Reba.

The Good: Decent enough vocals
The Bad: Short, Very poppy, None of the songs resonate with real originality
The Basics: A shockingly lame album, Reba is short, derivative and has country music star Reba McEntire presenting a bland pop album.

Sometimes, when I set out with my monthly Artist Of The Month, I don’t know what I am truly getting into. Around this time last year, I was immersed in Ella Fitzgerald’s works and I was astonished to learn she was only a performer, having almost never written any of her own material. When my Artist Of The Month was Reba McEntire, the more I listened to her works, the more lukewarm I became to her works. The more I consider Reba, for example, the more pointless I find it to be. While I have a healthy respect for Reba McEntire’s prolific production, everything from the concept to the execution of Reba has been bothering me since the first listen (I’m on listen number sixteen as I type this).

Reba is a very pop-based album which was one of Reba McEntire’s biggest early successes (though she had been making music for well over a decade by the point Reba was released). While McEntire and her production staff might not be wild about the comparison, Reba is like a second-rate version of Tori Amos’s album Strange Little Girls. The only stretch with the analogy is that while Tori Amos’s album was an obvious collection of cover songs she was reinterpreting, Reba is often more subtle, though “Respect” (by Otis Redding, but popularized by Aretha Franklin) is pretty obvious and one of the songs was one made famous by Ella Fitzgerald. Furthermore, Strange Little Girls was a stretch for Amos, who is a prolific singer-songwriter. As little as McEntire’s fans might like to admit it, Reba is a decent performer, but very lacking on the creative end of her albums, even crediting her producers on Reba for the song choices on this album!

With only ten songs occupying 35:50, Reba is anything but the creative vision of Reba McEntire. McEntire was not involved in writing any of the songs, nor does she play any of the instruments on the album. Instead, Reba McEntire provides the vocals to songs which were all written by others. I have a real pet peeve about that with eponymous albums; if you’re going to name something after you, you should at least create it is how I figure. McEntire is also credited as a co-producer on the album and, especially important, for doing her own make-up for the photograph on the c.d. cover. In other words, McEntire is only peripherally involved in her own album, though she does sing.

The real issue for me with Reba, and I suspect for many of her early fans, is that this is a pop album. On Reba, Reba McEntire abandons the pretense of being a Country music icon and goes entirely for performing in a pop-music tradition. From her song choices – jazz and pop-rock standards or newer songs which sound more like Richard Marx than Reba McEntire – to the instrumentation, Reba is a pop album and it is a pretty mediocre one at that. In fact, this is a flat-out dud for a single, simple reason: there is nothing truly new, unique or otherwise extraordinary on this album. Instead, Reba McEntire performs the works of others without adding her own flavor or zest to them. So, this is a pretty boring cover album and likely only to appeal to fans of Celine Dion or Barbra Streisand as opposed to Reba McEntire’s fan base.

Instrumentally, Reba sounds like a typical late-80s synth and guitar-driven album. Songs like “You’re The One I Dream About” sound like late-80s schmaltz with their predictable, overproduced crescendos and drum machines (to be fair, drums are credited to a human being on this album, but the drumming is so bland and unexpressive that it sounds mechanical). The song sounds more like something by Tiffany or a Star Search contestant than Reba McEntire and the entire album has bland instrumental backing which is so unimpressive as to be aurally boring. For fans of Country music, Reba McEntire isn’t trying to keep you around: there is no pedal steel, no violins (fiddles), it’s all very keyboard, drum, guitar on Reba. And it’s a very bland use of all of those elements as well.

As for Reba McEntire’s vocals, I’ve not heard a more overproduced version of her vocals until now. These songs are so unimpressive in the way they take Reba McEntire’s natural alto voice and alter them for reverb (“Respect”) and overwhelm her with backing vocals. It is only on “Everytime You Touch Her” that her natural voice manages to break through, but even there, the song is so overproduced with the instrumental accompaniment that the overall sound of the song is still less impressive than one might like. As well, that song just sounds like Roy Orbison’s “Crying” in the opening.

Usually, I go into an evaluation of lyrics, but for Reba, I’m not going to bother because she’s not bothering to write any of the songs. Instead, I’d like to take a final moment to gripe about how unoriginal the album is. Reba McEntire here has the chance to explode as a pop star and she wasted it (the album did well with her Country base, but this was not her big crossover success) because she sounds like virtually every other pop-rock performer out there. “Respect” sounds a lot like Franklin’s version of the song. “Do Right By Me,” from the vocals to the instrumental accompaniment to the very tune, sound so frustratingly familiar (it’s a male performer, like Richard Marx, whose song this sounds identical to!) that one wonders if McEntire is just trying to be a mimic on the album.

Ultimately, Reba will only be enjoyed by those fans of Reba McEntire who want to hear her impersonations of other pop artists. The song selection is mediocre, the vocals are predictable and overproduced and there is not s single song on the album that makes the listener sit up and say “Reba OWNS that song!” Instead, after multiple listens, I’m shocked I came up with this much to write about the album.

For other Reba McEntire works, please check out my reviews of:
Just A Little Love
The Best Of Reba McEntire
Whoever’s In New England
It's Your Call
Greatest Hits Volume III: I'm A Survivor
Room To Breathe
20th Century Masters: Christmas Collection - Best Of Reba


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

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

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