Aretha’s records used to make history. Now they’re just historical “events” that she can’t seem to get through without a lot of help from her friends. Of the eight (count ’em) cuts on Through the Storm, four are “pairings of the century”: Aretha with James Brown on “Gimme Your Love” (a series of whoops and grunts as challenging to them as yawning); Aretha with Whitney Houston on “It Isn’t, It Wasn’t, It Ain’t Never Gonna Be” (a fixed vocal bout in which Whitney can’t get the gloves on and Aretha seems mildly amused); Aretha with Elton John on the title cut (what’s he doing trying to sound like George Michael?); and Aretha with the Four Tops on a song that’s already appeared on two albums.
Rounding out the bounty are “He’s the Boy,” an Aretha original that wouldn’t have made the B side of any of her hits for Atlantic, and “Come to Me,” a failed single from her 1980 Arista debut, Aretha (not to be confused with her 1986 Arista LP Aretha). Her finest moment on Through the Storm comes on her second remake of the 1968 classic “Think,” and it’s also her saddest moment: Has the state of current songwriting sunk so low that no one, not even Aretha herself, can write songs worthy of her voice anymore (how else to explain the presence of two songs from the soulless pen of Diane Warren, who should stick to Starship and Chicago)? Or is Aretha just in one of her prolonged lazy slumps? The problem with Through the Storm is you can’t really tell.