Renee Fleming is an accomplished soprano who's sung opera for the last 30 years, and is now turning her hand to rock and pop with this eclectic album of covers. The song choices - from The Mars Volta to Leonard Cohen - are uneven yet interesting, and there's little to nitpick about her voice, but the project isn't altogether successful.
The tiresome question hanging over it is: what's this for? Of course most music doesn't have to contribute anything especially; it is what it is. Covers, however, are what something else is, and if you're treading in someone else's musical footprints then you're, um, on the back foot from the start. It must be humbling even for a performer of Fleming's standing.
Fleming's precise phrasing and sonorous expression in this uncertain new context immediately and unfortunately brings to mind operatic metallers Within Temptation. She sounds almost like Marianne Faithfull, if Marianne Faithfull could really sing.
Her voice is deeper than you expect - her take on the gentle No One's Gonna Love You by Band of Horses is transposed lower than seems necessary, sapping something from the song. The soaring high notes she allows herself throughout are pure and extraordinary, but they're rare. She seems to be going against her own voice as well as her genre.
Her version of Mad World is interesting, sparse and dark, but there are some compressed horns in there that seem to mock it - elsewhere, there is some awful keening guitar work. Sincerity isn't lacking here, but soul may be. She tries Duffy's Stepping Stone - Duffy may sing like a distressed sea bird but it's her best song, defiant in fragility. Fleming sounds like a mature, confident woman, and it doesn't convince.
She finishes with a lengthy Hallelujah - the albatross in the aviary. It's like a comment on cover versions; it's such a standard, and yet so stubbornly cultish that it resists every rehash. It's like no other song, and this version doesn't distinguish itself. This is a respectable collection and a work that embarrasses no one, but lacking in purpose and ultimately in heart.