Recent news reports had claimed that Diana Ross’ first album of new material in over 20 years would see her chancing her arm creatively by working with Tame Impala’s chief cosmonaut Kevin Parker. Alas, there’s no such surprise collaboration on ‘Thank You’, with the singer instead opting to go big on cloying showbiz-trooper gratitude and saccharine co-writes with songwriters who’ve previously worked with the likes of Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith.
Recorded at Ross’ home studio during lockdown and produced by the omnipresent Jack Antonoff, there are flourishes and call backs to moments from the 77-year-old’s storied career throughout her 25th studio album. The nostalgic groove of its title track could have fallen through a wormhole from 1970, while the honeyed R&B of ‘In Your Heart’ sees Ross huskily sing “reach out and touch somebody” – a likely nod to her 1970 hit ‘Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)’.
Barring the upbeat reggaeton of ‘If The World Just Danced’, the R&B-inflected ‘Let’s Do It’ and the pass-the-Quaaludes campstravaganza of ‘I Still Believe’ (which sounds like it should be played under the moon and spoon of Studio 54), the emphasis of ‘Thank You’ is on schmaltzy, mid-tempo diva empowerment. There’s a fine line between ‘timeless’ and MOR, and Ross’ kitten heel is firmly on it with earnest, loungey paeans to the power of love like ‘Count On Me’ and ‘Just In Case’.
When she reaches the Siedah Garrett (the veteran songwriter responsible for Michael Jackson’s ‘Man In The Mirror’)-penned torch song ‘The Answer’s Always Love’, Ross goes full grand dame histrionics. “You can ignore the dreamer / But you can’t deny the dream,” she sings, as you imagine fans weeping down in the front row of her Las Vegas residency.
The biggest problem, however, are the lyrics, which leave no cliché uncoined throughout the record. By the time you get halfway through ‘Thank You”s 13 tracks it feels like you’re being held hostage by a Little Book of Inspirational Quotes at ear-point, and you begin to yearn for some of Chic’s patented “Deeper Hidden Meaning” that they brought to 1980’s ‘I’m Coming Out’’.
Ultimately, it feels as if everybody involved in ‘Thank You’ has reverentially tried to make the platonic ideal of a Diana Ross album, but instead fallen into the late-career artist deadzone of a pleasant record that neither particularly updates nor diminishes her legacy. Don’t get us wrong, it’s great to have Ross back – and she’ll slay Glastonbury when she finally gets her COVID-scuppered chance next year. But you do wonder what more could have been achieved here if everybody had thought outside the box and added a little more attitude instead of gratitude.
Release date: November 5
Record label: Decca