In 1998, Aretha Franklin proved that she deserved the world’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T more than ever. With the release of “A Rose is Still a Rose,” a 56-year-old Franklin exhibited surprising vitality and adapted to the demands of today’s R&B. With the help of contemporary singers like Mary J. Blige, Franklin proved that she was still relevant to the genre. On songs like “A Rose is Still a Rose,” Franklin showed that even at her age, she could produce music that youthful and modern without sacrificing her characteristically powerful vocals. Unfortunately, one can’t be nearly as pleased with Franklin’s latest release: the sub-par “So Damn Happy.”

Instead of delivering the fresh, upbeat melodies of “A Rose,” Franklin settles for a bland, uninspired set of identical-sounding songs. Gone is her ability to experiment with the more lively, challenging rhythms of contemporary R&B; Franklin regresses into what is safe for her — ballads and low tempo songs in which the backup singers do much of the work for her. Even on “Holdin’ On” and “No Matter What,” the two tracks in which she again enlists the help of Mary J. Blige, Franklin fails to bring anything new to the table. Those tracks are only slightly fresher than the rest of the album — and that’s largely due to Blige’s help.

Moreover, the melodies, such as that of “Wonderful,” are regrettably simplistic — which would have been sufficient if Franklin’s voice compensated for the bare instrumentals. Unfortunately, she not only fails to add anything to the music, she detracts from it, too. Franklin’s usually rich voice often comes off annoyingly piercing on this album, which doesn’t help the dismal status of “So Damn Happy.”

Nor does the lyrical content of the album offer anything of value. Franklin struggles to be the sagacious mother figure with tracks in which she tries to advise and inspire. Instead, she comes off repetitively upbeat, as the album title might suggest. She overdoes it so much that at times she even sounds ridiculous. In the gospel-oriented track “Good News,” for example, Franklin opens the song, shrilly proclaiming, “Extra, extra / Read all about it.” For the rest of the song, she continues to belt out Christian clichZs, including, “If you want to live your life upright / Pray that the Lord will hold up the light / What you need is love on your side.”

Even “The Only Thing Missin’,” the first single off of “So Damn Happy,” is mediocre at best. The track features a minimal, yet somewhat catchy guitar melody that does allow Franklin’s vocals to shine — but the song is still generic.

“The sun is shining, no clouds in view / Lovers are holdin’ hands, the world’s brand new,” she sings during the chorus. “Everybody’s smiling’, summer’s comin’ through / But the only thing is missing is you.”

Unfortunately, plenty is missing in this album, and little good to say of it. Franklin does a disservice not only to her fans but to herself. With “So Damn Happy,” the Queen of Soul has abruptly stopped moving in the exciting direction of “A Rose is Still a Rose.” All greats have their shortcomings, though, and “So Damn Happy” is exactly that.

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”1210″ ]