Reba McEntire's new weepy, whiny ballads don't do voice justice

April 26, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Bad love has been very good to Reba McEntire.

Blessed with a voice that moves easily from a wounded-heart quaver to full he-done-me-wrong fury, she's a natural for songs about mismatched lovers, cheating spouses and unrequited passion. As a result, her albums boast more bad relationships than the average soap opera.

But even by McEntire's usual standards of love-gone-sour, the songs on "Read My Mind" (MCA 10994, arriving in stores today) (( seem a tad extreme. Every song here, from the sassy "Why Haven't I Heard From You" to the maudlin "And Still," is built around a broken heart -- and while that may leave some listeners reaching for their hankies, it left me lunging for the eject button.

Don't get me wrong -- there's nothing wrong with a little musical heartbreak. Nor is there anything particularly objectionable about the way McEntire usually handles the subject. "Does He Love You," for instance, was a terrific example of how romantic turmoil could be remade as musical drama.

Still, what made "Does He Love You" work was that its scenario -- two women betrayed by the same man, but each believing she's the one he loves -- was so believable. Like any good soap opera, it couched its drama in credible characters and real-life situations.

Compare that with "She Thinks His Name Was John." Ostensibly a song about the dangers of casual sex, it's as subtle as a hellfire sermon and as believable as a Jack Chick comic. Here's the story: This woman goes to a party, meets "a friend of a friend," and ends up in his bed. Next thing we know, she "won't know love, have a marriage or sing lullabies . . . 'cause she let a stranger kill her hopes and her dreams." So defeated, she wastes away as McEntire belts out the final chorus, "She thinks his name was John."

Hard to believe that the same songwriter responsible for "Does He Love You" turned in that lamentable mess.

"She Thinks His Name Was John" may be the album's most extreme selection, but it's hardly the only problem here. Most of the women McEntire gives voice to are whiners, not tragic heroines, and that makes it tough to have much sympathy for their plight. At best, as on "Everything You Want" or the rock-edged "Why Haven't I Heard From You," they at least have spunk enough to tell their lovers to shape up.

Mostly, though, they just ache quietly -- like the woman in "And Still," who runs into an old lover and longs piteously after him as he walks off with his new wife, or the protagonist in the album's title tune, who says her man would understand her if only he could read her mind. (Jeez, lady, why don't you just say something then?)

Worst of all, by wasting her talents on such half-baked material, McEntire squanders most of the stylistic ground gained by the music here. Because as heavy as this album is on slow-and-weepy stuff, the songs that step away from the usual country-pop cliches show that McEntire could easily become a pop powerhouse as well as a country star. After hearing her handle a guitar-pop number like "I Wouldn't Want To Be You" or something as jazzy as "Everything You Want," it's easy to envisage her attracting the same kind of audience Celine Dion has.

NB But she'll need better material than she has here to get them.

HEAR REBA McENTIRE

To hear excerpts of Reba McEntire's "Read My Mind," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6242 after you hear the greeting.

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