Good intentions don’t always make for great music. The proof of this is the remake, “We Are the World 25” severs as an reminder maybe Sade was right: It really is never as good as the first time.
After repeated viewings of the video and listening to the song, the wonder here is how producers Quincy Jones and Lionel Ritchie can have the vocal talents of Barbra Streisand, Toni Braxton, Jennifer Hudson, Josh Groban and Celine Dion to call upon, yet give them less to do than Lil’ Wayne?
Swapping out one guy with suspect singing abilities (Bob Dylan) for another who can’t sing at all (‘Lil Wayne) is a testament to ‘Lil Wayne’s current charts supremacy. The only way to cover up his complete lack of vocal ability, is for Jones to throw ‘Lil Wayne the lifeline of “singing” through Auto-Tune. It’s a cheap and lazy bit of studio gimmickry that is an insult to the genuine vocalists Jones could have called upon instead.
Wyclef Jean’s vocal stylings strikes an unhappy balance between yodeling and bleating like an anguished goat. The Haitian-born Wyclef certainly deserves to be included among the participants here, but since he is not rapping and definitely not singing, he only reminds us it was his former band mate Lauren Hill’s vocals that powered The Fugees’ hits.
Thes “Who?” quotient of artists performing on “We Are the World 25” is a lot higher than the original. If you’re not a fan of the country duo Sugarland, would you know who Jennifer Nettles was? Are Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and Isaac Slade from The Fray two such recognizable faces they make you go, “Say, isn’t that..?”
Do the same kids who instantly recognize Swizz Beatz, Miley Cyrus, and Nick Jonas wonder who an old fart like Tony Bennett is? Will a country music fan give a crap when gospel music divas Mary Mary show up or, Orianthi, Michael Jackson’s guitarist from This Is It, wanders by to pluck a few nondescript notes?
Since this recording follows the same game plan as the original by recruiting and recording immediately following The Grammy Awards, it’s interesting to note the prominent artists whom are conspicuous in their absence. Count among the no-shows Beyonce, Mariah Carey, Rhianna and Taylor Swift ( though with Kanye West in attendance, Swift bowing out is hardly a surprise, Haitians or no Haitians). Just as her role model, Madonna was absent 25 years earlier, Lady GaGa is equally M.I.A.
Even without those divas in attendance, the biggest difference in the two versions is how decisively the balance of power has shifted in favor of women. In 1985, the female soloists were Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Cyndi Lauper, Dionne Warwick and Kim Carnes. The new line-up of Barbra Streisand, Mary J. Blige, Celine Dion, Fergie, Jennifer Nettles, Pink , Mary Mary and Toni Braxton is a clear upgrade.
On the other hand, the fall-off in the caliber of male vocalists is steep. Out goes Michael Jackson (though he does “duet” here with sister Janet), Ray Charles, Kenny Rogers, Lionel Ritchie, James Ingram, Stevie Wonder, Huey Lewis, Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Daryl Hall, Steve Perry, Al Jarreau and Kenny Loggins. In comes Justin Bieber, Tony Bennett, Enrique Igleias, Josh Groban, Usher, Jamie Foxx (channeling Ray Charles), Adam Levine, Isaac Slade, Akon, BeBe Winans, Nick Jones and over a half-dozen rappers. If you want to call that an upgrade, go ahead and try to make the case. As talent pools go though it’s a mighty shallow one.
You cannot knock the charitable intentions behind the remake, but the final product counts too and on that score d this pallid update is blown away by its far superior predecessor. The singers are overwhelmed by the prevelance given to the rappers and under utilized by Jones and Richie in their attempt to be contemporary. What made the original “We Are the World” light years ahead of this sloppy sequel was the convergence of both the chart-toppers of the day and the venerable elder statesmen. This time the participants aren’t just battling a natural disaster, but each other for face time.
Things might have turned out better if Jones and Ritchie had kept the idea of pulling together artists to respond to the Haiti disaster, but given them an entirely different song to perform. The music industry has more far more Balkanized than it once was and consumers don’t seem to listen to or like as many genres as they once did. A newly written version of “We Are the World” might not be as successful but it wouldn’t be weighed down by the burden of comparisons to the original.
While the world’s attention has turned to Vancouver and the Olympics, the need for aid to Haiti continues. “We Are the World 25” has its heart in the right place, but it hits a lot of sour notes.