Tina Turner - Tina! (2008)

Tina Turner
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Tina Turner has not released a full-length album of new songs since 1999. That effort, Twenty Four Seven, was a well-intentioned attempt to re-create some of the pop-soul-rock-dance magic that made Private Dancer (1984) such a compelling fusion of styles and heralded Turner's remarkable comeback. The difference between the two sets is that Twenty Four Seven lacked edge and failed to generate even a fraction of the former's greatness, despite a handful of standout cuts like "When the Heartache is Over." It is no surprise that not one track from Twenty Four Seven appears on TINA! What is surprising is that in the decade since Twenty Four Seven was released, TINA! marks Turner's third compilation. All the Best (2004) and its redundant single-disc companion The Hits (2005) were sufficient, if awkwardly sequenced, summaries of Turner's hit singles and crowd favorites.

Tina Turner has not released a full-length album of new songs since 1999. That effort, Twenty Four Seven, was a well-intentioned attempt to re-create some of the pop-soul-rock-dance magic that made Private Dancer (1984) such a compelling fusion of styles and heralded Turner's remarkable comeback. The difference between the two sets is that Twenty Four Seven lacked edge and failed to generate even a fraction of the former's greatness, despite a handful of standout cuts like "When the Heartache is Over." It is no surprise that not one track from Twenty Four Seven appears on TINA! What is surprising is that in the decade since Twenty Four Seven was released, TINA! marks Turner's third compilation. All the Best (2004) and its redundant single-disc companion The Hits (2005) were sufficient, if awkwardly sequenced, summaries of Turner's hit singles and crowd favorites. What, then, does this latest compilation offer that the most recent collections do not?

Gospel-inflected live renditions of "Let's Stay Together" and "I Can't Stand the Rain" (recorded in Amsterdam, 1996) and the original film version of "The Acid Queen" (from The Who's 1975 film, Tommy, in which Turner starred) appear alongside two obligatory new tracks, "I'm Ready" and "It Would Be a Crime." Written by Guy Chambers and Pat Monahan, "I'm Ready" is a fantastic pop-rock showcase for Turner's ever-strident voice that will no doubt make the concert set list on Turner's upcoming tour. 15 years ago, when the pop charts and radio was a little less ageist, "I'm Ready" would have landed comfortably in the Top 10. If only there were just eight more new songs....

It's a chore not to greet TINA! with just a smidgen of cynicism since the ratio of studio albums containing all-new material to various compilations since Private Dancer now measures 5-7. Ponying up $18 for two new songs and the umpteenth re-issue of the other sixteen tracks seems to take advantage of listeners' good will towards one of the greatest living artists. (Of course, one can just download the two new tracks, only to have them disappear in the untenable mire of MP3 playlists.)

Two possible scenarios come to mind about the methodology behind this particular compilation. One is that it times perfectly with Tina Turner's upcoming tour and will no doubt be an impulse purchase/memento for both the newly converted and truly dedicated listeners. The other is that TINA! could fulfill Turner's contract with EMI, which has undergone massive executive and creative reordering in the wake of its purchase by private equity bank Terra Firma.

There is no mistaking that almost every track on TINA!, by its own accord, is first-rate (one glaring omission is the 1986 Top 5 hit, "Typical Male," which I would readily substitute for the grating "What You Get Is What You See" that appears instead). Listening to the album in sequence, though, is to experience a jarring dislocation of place and time. Hearing Turner growl on the sultry '89 rocker "Steamy Windows" followed by the mono sound of the grandiose, Phil Spector-produced "River Deep-Mountain High" from 1966, then turning sharply towards "Better Be Good to Me" (1984) truly defines the age of the iPod Shuffle. To have the gritty, swampy 1973 version of "Nutbush City Limits" follow Turner's slick, 1993 update of "Proud Mary" is a lesson in revisionist history. (I prefer the original, Grammy Award-winning 1971 version.) I wager that even the most casual fan could devise a more cohesive, sensible, and more listenable order to the material collected here.

Probably the most frustrating aspect about TINA! is that there remains a wealth of stylistic possibilities at Turner's disposal if she were to record a new, full-length album. Her appearance on Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters (2007) suggested that she needn't travel the well-tread pop anthem route while her previous takes on "He Lives in You" (from The Lion King, 1999) and "Easy as Life" (from AIDA, 1999) revealed a warm theatricality. When Tina Turner turns 70 in 2009, she will celebrate an astonishing 50 years as a recording artist. While that occasion will certainly yield another excuse to serve up a thorough, career-spanning retrospective, I sincerely hope that, instead, Tina Turner is inspired to show listeners yet another side of her awe-inspiring talent.

By Christian John Wikane

 
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