When revisiting Diana Ross’ extensive and iconic discography, it is as easy to get lost in its timelessness as it is to lose track of the 14 years since her last album. And if her 2006 collection of anemic covers didn’t do it for you, we actually have to reach back more than 20 years for her last original material.
She finally breaks her dry spell with Thank You (★★★☆☆), a final-sounding but hopefully-not-final new album that radiates humility and gratitude, carried along by her unmatched brand of star power.
Thank You may have been a long time coming, but this time, Ross doesn’t disappoint. She makes it clear from the album’s opening lines that the record is one for the fans. The star radiates gratitude, singing a heartfelt series of thank-yous to nobody in particular.
It all might be a little saccharine, but the gently spoken “I love you” at the end of “Beautiful Love” is especially arresting because it’s impossible not to get the feeling that she really means it.
The album carries an unmistakable air of nostalgia and many of its tracks nod to different points in her career, with sounds that recall her years with The Supremes and her disco-era chart-toppers. Aside from “Tomorrow,” here’s nothing that reads as a full-on disco track, which is somewhat surprising but might have been a deliberate reaction to the revival of disco-pop over the last couple years.
Even so, she can’t help gesturing towards it as she does in the title track, which shimmers with disco elements and “I Still Believe,” a breezy, Latin-inflected dance number that could have come straight out of the ’90s.
What ties Thank You together more than anything is Ross’ relentless sense of positivity, at times bordering on deliberately naive, full of idealistic lyrics like “tell me why we all seem to hate so much.”
She avoids wielding it at anything in particular, a choice that serves her well, allowing her to avoid coming off as preachy or prescriptive and instead keeping things on the level of a warm, comforting vibe. The closest she comes to tying it down to the concrete is in daydreaming of a gentler world on “The Answer’s Always Love” and calling for a fuzzy kind of togetherness on “Come Together.”
Unsurprisingly, nothing on Thank You is on quite the same level as the hits she churned out during her many career peaks, but there is no indication she is trying to recapture that spark, either. Rather than Motown or disco revival, this is every inch a contemporary pop record, one that happens to have been made by Diana Ross but bearing the fingerprints of producer Jack Antonoff and a suite of prolific songwriters.
Ross makes it work for her, as she does with the stirring pop ballad “Just In Case” and the sultry “Let’s Do It.” Some production choices occasionally clash with and even overwhelm Ross’ voice, at one point even flattening it out with autotune on “In Your Heart,” a strange choice that doesn’t really serve the singer or the song.
Thank You is undoubtedly the work of an artist with deep love and respect for her fans. While it is unlikely to be remembered among her best work, and mostly remarkable for the fact that it is her first new work in many years, it is nonetheless a comforting crowd-pleaser.
Despite the disconcerting sense of finality it has, Ross has given no indication one way or another if this will be her last album, and hopefully has more in her. Whether she ends up following it up or not, Thank You is a solid comeback, offering something fresh without ever losing sight of the things that have made generations of fans fall in love with her.
Thank You is available to stream and purchase now. Follow Diana Ross on Twitter at @DianaRoss.
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