Through the Storm is a concept album, or at least the late-'80s version of one. What it really is is a marketing strategy. Hook the Queen of Soul up with a series of celebrated singing partners like Elton John, Whitney Houston, James Brown and Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops. Hey, it worked last year when she teamed up with George (call me Thunder Thighs) Michael on the hit "I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me)."
The collaboration ploy will no doubt garner Aretha more radio play than she might otherwise have gotten this summer, but musically it's a thudding disappointment. Take "Gimme Your Love." It should work. It unites the royalty of soul, Franklin and James Brown, on a jumpy Narada Michael Walden arrangement. But it comes across as merely manic, with Aretha sounding forced as she tries to keep up with JB's standard pitch of excitement. If Brown seems to intimidate Aretha, she gets hers back on "It Isn't, It Wasn't, It Ain't Never Gonna Be" by thoroughly dominating Whitney Houston, who pulls the greatest disappearing act since Judge Crater.
At least the mix of voices is right on the title track with Elton John. But then Elton has thrived on the buddy system, participating in more vocal collaborations in his career than all other pop singers combined. (Yes, we're including Julio Iglesias in this unofficial audit.) And the John-Franklin duet, "Through the Storm," is a decent enough song, even if its inspirational tone is a little overbaked.
Aretha fares somewhat better by herself, sounding warmest and most relaxed on her own "He's the Boy." But she also makes the dubious decision to remake one of her classic '60s hits. The zippity-doo-doo "Think (1989)" is a desecration of the original. Throughout Through the Storm, in fact, Aretha is a little off target, and all the company doesn't improve her aim. (Arista)