The Queen of Country has jumped headfirst into rock’n’roll in her 49th solo album, Rockstar. Besides a handful of originals, the bulk of the work is made up of iconic rock songs, chiefly featuring their original performers.
It followed her Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame nomination, which she reluctantly accepted on the grounds of being a country star, promising to be worthy of the nomination. Hence, a rock’n’roll album was born. The album’s origin story is a testament to the unwavering humility that have made Dolly a global sweetheart: naturally, audiences would be anticipating its success. But if the album is to be her case for her worthiness as a rock star, it falls short of expectations.
The album’s featured artists make a patchwork of household names – Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sting, Steven Tyler – and even the remaining Beatles made it on for her rendition of ‘Let It Be.’ It should be easy enough to make a hit album with such a well-loved medley of featuring artists, but the track choices are in fact its principal downfall. Obvious hits like ‘Purple Rain,’ ‘Satisfaction’ and ‘Free Bird’ feel more like Dolly threw a dozen darts at an all-time rock top 100 playlist. Along with the fact that her voice, lovely but unmistakably adept for country, is ill-fitting with rock anthems. It rather resembles rock satire by someone clearly out of touch with the genre.
There is nothing wrong with an artist adapting music from another genre or culture, so long as there is something new or interesting about their take otherwise one may as well listen to the original. This is the case for ‘Every Breath You Take,’ in which she reads off Sting’s script as he whispers in the background, his presence authenticating her effort. Her carbon copy of ‘Purple Rain’ could have benefited from more bold original changes; instead, it sounds like a lesser version.
The instrumentals are not very complex, dominated by a stereotypical strumming of electric guitars. Unexperimental instrumentals may have worked on more raw and emotive music, but as most have already heard the originals, it feels overdone and inauthentic. That being said, her effort to earn her nomination is admirable. And her honeyed twang makes it so not a single track fails to exude that characteristic Dolly warmth; from the classic country swoon of ‘Night Moves’ to the shrillest screaming match in ‘I Want You Back.’
Parton announced the album by stating, “if you’re going to be in the rock and roll hall of fame, you need to earn it.” Dolly Parton has chosen to do so by pandering to the nostalgic ear. Fortunately for her, the comfort her voice brings to every track makes sitting through 141 minutes of a wedding tribute band’s playlist rather bearable.