Who's Zoomin' Who?

Aretha Franklin

Arista, 1985


REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


Talk about an overhaul. The Queen Of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin, charged headlong into 1985 with an album that restored her standing on the charts and made people realize just how much she had been missed. Yeah, it’s got a goofy title – Who’s Zoomin’ Who – but then, the ‘80s were a pretty goofy decade if you care to look back on it. The nine songs that are found within are anything but goofy, however. They are mature, crisp and clean – in other words, typical Arista fare.

Guest appearances abound on Who’s Zoomin’ Who, from a hit duet with Eurythmics (“Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves”), to a lesser known, yet effective rock summit with Peter Wolf and Carlos Santana (“Push”), to Clarence Clemons’ sax solo on the terrific lead-off single, “Freeway Of Love.” Producer Narada Michael Walden really brought out the best of Aretha on this release, which ended up being her last album to go platinum. Since then, she has returned to her R&B/gospel roots, leaving pop to the likes of younger upstarts Rihanna and Beyoncé.nbtc__dv_250

The Aretha Franklin of old can be found on the slow-burn ballad “Sweet Bitter Love,” which provides a nice vocal showcase for the singer. Also, “Integrity” is the kind of track that only someone like Aretha could pull off, so it’s hardly surprising that she opted to produce it and “Sweet Bitter Love” herself. As strong as those soulful cuts are, the real standouts are the upbeat #1 dance singles “Freeway Of Love” and the fun, skittering title track. Critics were confounded by how effortlessly Aretha wore this challenging material, as if it were one of her expensive mink coats. “Something like this just isn’t supposed to happen to a woman of her age,” is what they must have been thinking.

That is the legacy of Aretha – her versatility and professionalism. She may not release albums at the pace other artists do, and she may take her own sweet time getting to her destination, but when she does, people sit up and take notice. Even her rare personal appearances are the stuff of legend – from her jockeying for top billing over rival Tina Turner at the Grammy Awards last year to her bow-hat upstaging President Obama at his own Presidential inauguration. She’s got some nerve, that’s for sure. But people love her for her audacity and respect her for her immense talent.

Aretha does miss the mark on the ridiculous Caribbean-flavored “Ain’t Nobody Ever Loved You,” which sounds like a Lionel Richie “All Night Long” rip-off. Coupled with the momentum-crushing slow songs, Who’s Zoomin’ Who isn’t quite the perfect “masterpiece” someone like Arista president Clive Davis would like you to believe it is. Still, it did prove Aretha could competently compete with the other ‘80s soul divas of the day. The spark may not be quite as strong anymore, but it was electric while it lasted.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2009 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Arista, and is used for informational purposes only.