Though I've never considered Diana Ross an album artist in any sense, 1980's "Diana" is definitely one of the best recordings in her expansive catalog (along with 1984's "Swept Away"). By teaming with CHIC member/legendary producer Nile Rogers, this effort gives Diana a slicker, more polished funky R&B sound than she exuded on 1979's "The Boss". While the songwriting in spots sounds a little lazy compared to some of the material Rogers produced for CHIC and Sister Sledge, the great moments more than make up for it.
Diana did the right thing by remixing the album with Russ Terrana--especially on "Upside Down", by scaling back the strings and giving the song a slightly starker production overall. Her redone vocals are also less cheery-sounding and serve the record better. Over thirty years after it's debut "Upside Down" remains my favorite single of all-time. I will never tire of the lush strings, scratchy guitars and Lady Di's cool, detached vocal. The anthematic "I'm Coming Out" of course being the other winner here with it's exuberant keyboard exclamation and incessant shotgun drumming matching Diana's excited and celebratory delivery. Diana seems to be having the most fun on the cheery-sounding ode to "My Old Piano". Musically, this one's most similar to "Upside Down" except it's happier and Diana naturally executes the tricky verses with expertise.
The two slow jams "Friend to Friend" and "Now That You're Gone" are anything but boring. The production is breathtaking, awash with plucky strings underneath crystal-clear vocals that will give the listener goosebumps.
Though the production is still top-notch, the writing is not as sharp on the remaining cuts. "Have Fun (Again)" possesses more of an urban vibe that Rogers would employ the following year on Debbie Harry's solo debut "Koo Koo". The song goes on longer than it should. The same can be said for "Give Up", but this one gets the edge because of stronger lyrics.
I bought the expanded 2-disc edition just to get the original version of the album that Nile Rogers mixed himself but I admit I don't listen to the second disc of bonus tracks very often.
Anyone who (correctly) perceives Diana as a singles artist and is wary of purchasing an album of hers can rest easy--this is one that won't disappoint. Fans of CHIC and Sister Sledge or Nile Rogers' work will be sure to enjoy.
Upside Down 5/5
Friend to Friend 5/5
I'm Coming Out 5/5
Have Fun (Again) 4/5
My Old Piano 5/5
Now That You're Gone 5/5
Give Up 4/5
Album rating: FOUR STARS.