Tribute to Diana is missing something Review: Rock stars express their grief with songs that often have nothing to do with the late Princess of Wales.

December 02, 1997|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Rock and roll loves paying tribute to the dead. Dead rock stars in particular. From Buddy Holly (Don McLean's "American Pie") to Marvin Gaye (The Commodores' "Nightshift") to Notorious B.I.G. (Puff Daddy's "Missing You"), the pop canon is full of fond remembrances and sentimental tears.

But a paean for a dead princess? You won't find too many of those rolling around in rock's attic, which may be why few of the 36 songs collected on the double-disc collection "Diana Princess of Wales Tribute" (Columbia 69012, arriving in stores today) actually have anything to do with the death of the former Diana Spencer.

That may seem hard to believe, given the continuing popularity of Elton John's Diana elegy, "Candle in the Wind '97." Nine weeks after its release, the single still tops the U.S. pop charts. Nor is its popularity simply a local phenomenon, as it topped the charts throughout Europe, racking up the highest worldwide sales of any single in history.

Inasmuch as that sort of sales performance attracts the attention of even the most altruistic musicians, you'd think rock stars would have rushed to express their sadness in song. And boy, would you be wrong.

Take, for example, Tina Turner's track, "Love Is a Beautiful Thing." With a steamy, synth-spiked arrangement thumping behind her, Turner expresses her regrets. "All this time I can't forget you/Everywhere I turn, I think of you," she sings. A touching remembrance, right? Well, no -- not when she gets to the chorus, and starts singing, "One on one, you and me/Baby, it's our destiny/ Love is a beautiful thing."

At least, I don't think she's talking about Di.

But Turner is hardly the only star who pays tribute without actually invoking the late Princess of Wales. Only 13 of the 36 tracks on the album are in any sense "new"; even then, many of those have only a tangential connection at best to Diana.

Annie Lennox is among those offering actual homage. "Angel," the song she contributes, goes a long way toward conveying the kind of affection average Britons had for the princess, seeing her not as some fairy-tale figure but as a genuine hero. "I believed in you," sings Lennox on the song's chorus. "I believed in you/Like Elvis Presley singing Psalms on a Sunday." Hearing the song, it's easy to understand why so many Britons felt obliged to lay flowers and sign books of remembrance.

Just as personal, but a bit more disturbing, is Peter Gabriel's "In the Sun." A tormented, troubling look at the responsibilities of celebrity, it offers a view of Diana's life in the limelight that is as bleak as the buzzing, thudding rhythm track beneath his voice. True, he does use "May God's love be with you" as a chorus, but in this context, the phrase is hardly reassuring.

Fortunately, most of the album's invocations to God are more traditionally religious. Aretha Franklin, for example, offers a soaring, emotional reading of the spiritual "I'll Fly Away" (complete with a dedication to Diana), while Sinead O'Connor offers an earnest, breathy performance of "Make Me a Channel of Your Peace," one of the hymns offered at the funeral service for the princess.

Had there been more such material, this "Tribute" would be quite moving in its way. But the bulk of the album is given over to tracks by artists who wanted to contribute to the project -- proceeds from the album's sales go to benefit the Diana, TTC Princess of Wales Memorial Fund -- but couldn't come up with anything new.

So we get such unexpected ironies as the late Freddie Mercury joining Queen for "Who Wants to Live Forever," a sentiment that will surely comfort the Spencers. Then there's Puff Daddy's "Missing You," which includes such princess-appropriate lines as "Seems like only yesterday we rocked the show/I lays the track, you locked the flow." Yeah, I can picture Diana doing that

Some songs, like R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" or Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven," are so general in their expressions of grief that they could apply to any much-mourned celebrity; others, like Neil Finn's slight reworking of the Crowded House hit "Don't Dream It's Over" or Lesley Garrett's vocal version of Ravel's "Pavane for a Dead Princess," take on added resonance in the new context.

But on the whole, "Diana Princess of Wales Tribute" is the sort of album that means well, even if it doesn't always do the good it intends. So even though it's hard to applaud the album, it would be equally churlish to carp about its shortcomings.

Pub Date: 12/02/97

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