- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2007

Diana Ross

I Love You

Manhattan/EMI

Just six months ago, Diana Ross joined the ranks of aging pop stars (Carly Simon, Rod Stewart et al) who have recorded the classic standards of yesteryear with her release of “Blue,” a project initially started in 1971 as a companion piece to her “Lady Sings the Blues” soundtrack.

This week, she revisits the past once more with the new “I Love You,” a compilation of mostly romantic ballads spanning a 30-year arc from the 1950s through ‘80s. Due in stores today, it’s no coincidence that the CD’s release comes amid the hype surrounding “Dreamgirls,” the acclaimed film adaptation of the Broadway hit which loosely interprets Miss Ross in her heyday as lead singer of Motown’s legendary Supremes.

The movie’s success affords a ready-made platform for the once celebrated diva to return to the spotlight. She’s booked for several TV shows within the next month, including today’s appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and the syndicated “Live with Regis & Kelly.”

But the near karaoke-like “I Love You” — despite a lush infusion of strings and backing vocals — provides little justification for doing so.

Worse still, the new CD drops just days before Miss Ross’ former label, Universal, plans to release “Love is in Our Hearts: The Love Collection,” an 18-track anthology that features many of the Supremes’ greatest hits including “Baby Love,” “My World is Empty Without You” and “You Can’t Hurry Love.”

The disappointing “I Love You” opens and closes with (a reprise of) a tepid remake of Harry Nilsson’s “Remember.” In between are sandwiched songs by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, Bill Withers, Freddy Mercury, Paul McCartney and even Miss Ross’ younger brother Arthur “T-Boy” Ross, who co-wrote another of the CD’s covers, Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You.”

Billed as “a vibrant journey through many of music’s most timeless and recognizable affirmations of love,” the 15 tracks cover a shallow A to B gamut of frothy fantasies that seem better suited to a gushing teenager than a once mighty pop star (and mother of five) who’s approaching 63. How else do you explain Miss Ross’ emotionless sleepwalk of “Take My Breath Away” from the “Top Gun” soundtrack or a mawkish rehashing of “More Today Than Yesterday”?

With a breathy voice-over on the Platters’ “Only You,” Miss Ross flips back to a leaf from her Motown past (her rendition of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”). She also takes a stab at Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” and unremarkably revisits Heatwave’s “Always and Forever.” Even on the album’s title track (one of two new tunes) and the sultry “The Look of Love,” the Burt Bacharach-Hal David classic, Miss Ross wilts rather than smolders.

Miss Ross was once the toast of pop music. Billboard magazine dubbed her “entertainer of the century” in 1976, and in 1993 she was anointed the “most successful female artist ever” by the Guinness Book of World Records. But she has struggled to find a fresh concept that can properly showcase her considerable talents. While it peaked at No. 2 on the jazz album charts, “Blue” was not that project.

Neither is “I Love You,” which finds Miss Ross sadly languishing amid long-ago glories — instead of creating new ones better suited to a mature artist.

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