If, as Diana eulogist Elton John once claimed, sad songs say so much, Diana, Princess of Wales: Tribute should speak volumes. Unfortunately, this 36-track, two-CD compilation, which is made up largely of previously released material, has little to add to the musical discourse on loss, pain, and the redemptive power of love. It certainly ranks as one of the most maudlin albums ever, including as it does a veritable hit list of depressive anthems, among them Eric Clapton’s ”Tears in Heaven” and R.E.M.’s ”Every-body Hurts.” The decision to include Puff Daddy’s ”I’ll Be Missing You”—an elegy to crack dealer-cum-gangsta rapper Notorious B.I.G.—represents the sole twinkle of (no doubt unintentional) black humor. (For the record, John’s ”Candle in the Wind 1997” isn’t on the album.)
The album’s first half is marginally the better of the two, adding several dashes of artistic depth to the mix. Transcendent gems like Bruce Springsteen’s ”Streets of Philadelphia” and U2’s team-up with Pavarotti (as the pseudonymous Passengers) on ”Miss Sarajevo” offset the ho-hum hoariness of fare like Barbra Streisand’s ”Evergreen” (hell, why not ”Stoney End”?). George Michael, of all people, demonstrates how to deliver a romantic ballad without drowning it in syrup on ”You Have Been Loved.” And Aretha Franklin, who recorded a new song for Tribute, displays her gospel roots to superb effect on the closer, ”I’ll Fly Away.” The second disc, top-heavy with overproduced MOR tearjerkers, is a tour de force of insufferableness. Between saccharine string-and-synth-driven things (Celine Dion’s ”Because You Loved Me,” Whitney Houston’s ”You Were Loved”) and cringeworthy collaborations from hell (Toni Braxton and Kenny G’s ”How Could an Angel Break My Heart,” Michael Bolton and Placido Domingo’s duet on ”Ave Maria”), it’s a nightmare for pop fans turned off by synthetic sentimentality. Thank God for Des’ree, whose ”You Gotta Be” constitutes just about the only buoyancy in a sea of turgidity.
Despite a smattering of bright spots—and no matter how laudable the album’s charitable intentions (proceeds go to the Diana, Princess of Wales Fund)—this star-studded collection is ultimately just too damn mournful. Still, if you’ve yet to shed a tear over Diana, cheer up: This may open the floodgates. C