This review was first published by the Sac Cultural Hub.
Upon the occasion of Diana Ross’ first album of original music in more than 21 years, let’s start with the elephant in the room: that album cover.
When you’re as youthful as the 77 year old Ross still is, it borders on maddening to see a photo (albeit a gorgeous one) from the mid-1990s adorning the cover of her new album, Thank You.
But since I am not in the habit of telling a diva what photograph she can use for her own album cover, I’ll stay in my lane and focus on the music.
Leading up to Thank You’s early November release, I was tentative about listening to it. After Ross had been absent from the recording studio for so many years, what would she sound like?
And then there was the pandemic to think about. I wondered whether the coronavirus, and the fear about it that I’m sure Ross felt along with the rest of us, had finally dampened her coquettish pipes?
I should have known better. With Diana Ross, it ain’t over ‘til the skinny girl sings — and sing she does on the sparkling, ebullient new Thank You. As high profile music releases go this fall, my home girl from Detroit has almost left me asking “Adele who?”
Thank You’s highlights include the buoyant title track; the hopeful “If The World Just Danced”; “I Still Believe” which features a deceptively mellow intro that quickly transports us to the nearest club; the jazzy “Count On Me”; and “Tomorrow,” which should be Ross’ return to the top of the dance charts. With Ross’ crystalline voice and the song’s explosive horns blasting full tilt, you won’t be able to hold still while listening to it: “Tomorrow starts with me! And you! And you!”
Other album standouts include the benedictory “Beautiful Love,” which sounds like a private message from Ross to her children or grandchildren, and “Time To Call,” which is tailor made to close Ross’ upcoming concerts.
But Thank You reaches its apex with “The Answer’s Always Love.” Like I did with the rest of the ballads on the album, I listened to the Siedah Garrett composition picturing the regal Ross as she probably recorded it, in a comfy bath robe, sweat pants, and Ugg boots, weave slightly askew, in her home studio in the middle of the pandemic.
“You say I’m just a dreamer, but I believe it’s a good thing,” Ross movingly sings, introducing the song’s chorus in a register that’s a bit lower than we’re accustomed to from her. When the legend pushes her way through the song’s bridge, she dispels doubts about whether she could still hit that highest of high notes.
“The Answer’s Always Love” stands beside “Touch Me In The Morning,” “Do You Know Where You’re Going To,” and “Missing You” as one of the best ballads Ross has ever recorded. The undisputed Queen of Motown, almost half a century after leaving the legendary label and striking out on her own, has unquestionably still got it.
One of the things that I love about Thank You is its consistency. Ross was never much of an album artist, sometimes releasing projects that featured incredible hit singles hidden in layers of filler. In contrast, there’s not a single throw-away track on Thank You. It’s her best, most consistent album since 1980’s diana.
On Ross’ first solo chart topper, 1970’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” she promised us that if we needed her, we could call her and she’d be there. After years of online clamor for new music from her, Ross has made good on that promise by delivering Thank You, her most personal album to date and with it, one of the most beautiful.
I’ve listened in on months of online chatter from her fans, speculating about why the new album was pushed back from its original early September release date. (The Beyhive has NOTHING on Ross’ fans!) Upon an initial listen to the album, the answer to that question appears obvious: Ross wanted us to have a Thanksgiving soundtrack this season, and her grateful new Thank You is unquestionably just that.
Some fans may expressed trouble embracing the girl who cooed “Baby Love” in 1964 as a spiritual songbird in 2021, lighting the way for those of us who have stumbled over the last couple of years. But for Ross’ throng, the inspirational bent of her new album shouldn’t be a surprise: she was the “diva in the middle,” after all, who belted out “Amazing Grace” in Vienna back in 1993 during a Christmas show with two of The Three Tenors.
Her fans should know that you don’t have a true Diana Ross album on your hands unless she’s included a “Reach Out & Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” an “All For One,” a “Forever Young,” or an “Only Love Will Conquer All” on it — all songs that, thematically, could have been included on the new album.
With Thank You, Ross has fashioned herself as a musical Moses, leading her faithful out of the darkness and into the light. She has said that it is her “intention” to have the new album spread the world over. If the weekend I spent listening to it is any indication, or the encouragement that the album gave me to head out to my first pandemic-era large public event last weekend, Ross may well manifest her intention.
To Ross’ skeptics, and to those who don’t like this mature, motivational chanteuse, I say this: I am not in the habit of telling a diva who first committed her voice to wax 60 years ago what she should sing in her home recording studio either, or what she should present to the world.
And to The Boss herself, I have but one thing to say regarding her new album:
Thank you, Ms. Ross.