Release Date: August 27th 2021
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- She’s Fire [Diane Warren, G-Eazy & Santana]
- Seaside [Diane Warren, Rita Ora, Sofia Reyes & Reik]
- Sweet [Diane Warren, Jon Batiste & Pentatonix]
- When We Dance Slow [Diane Warren & Luis Fonsi]
- I Save Me [Diane Warren & Maren Morris]
- Where Is Your Heart [Diane Warren & John Legend]
- Drink You Away [Diane Warren & Ty Dolla $ign]
- You Go First [Diane Warren & James Arthur]
- Not Prepared For You [Diane Warren & Lauren Jauregui]
- You Kind Of Beautiful [Diane Warren & Jimmie Allen]
- Domino [Diane Warren & LP]
- Superwoman [Diane Warren & Celine Dion]
- Times Like This [Diane Warren & Darius Rucker]
- Grow Old With Me [Diane Warren & Leona Lewis & James Morrison]
- Blessings [Diane Warren & Paloma Faith]
I’ve often wondered what constitutes a timeless song. A song that is regarded as being legendary in its own right. Something that can tug at your heart, and can invade your innermost being, bringing forth emotions to the surface that you never knew you had. I’ve often wondered if it’s the artist who makes a great song, or if it’s the songwriter. Because usually, the great songs (like the great songs in the 90’s like “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion and “When You Believe” by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey), are 9 times out of 10, written by a songwriter, or maybe two or more; and then given to a singer to ‘make famous’. Is a song famous because of the name and reputation of the artist, or because of the reputation or repertoire of the songwriter? Songwriters like Diane Warren, Ashley Gorley, Justin Paul & Benj Pasek, David Garcia, David Foster, Justin Tranter & Julia Michaels, Sia, Ryan Tedder, Toby Gad, Shane McAnally and Ester Dean, are all in high demand; and only some of these are artists. The rest just keep chugging along, ploughing away at their craft, helping to make artists famous by crafting a radio friendly hit song. Many of these songwriters are world renowned and respected by their peers- and so the question needs to be asked as to whether the song lives on in the hearts of all of us because of the artist or the songwriter. I reckon it’s about 50/50 at least, in that the songwriter generally does around about 50% of the work in propelling an artist into stardom. But whether a song lives on in my heart, and then just doesn’t connect in your heart- that’s a different thing altogether. But generally speaking, the big iconic songs that we’ll still be singing in 20-30 years’ time, are because of a symbiotic or sometimes parasitical relationship between the songwriter and the artist. But what happens when an iconic song is written by the artist who has sung it? Does that artist achieve the recognition, the praise, the accolades, before the songwriters who write for other people? If an artist has been going and going and going for a long period of time, writing and singing, and keeping their head down… and they don’t receive any awards because their songs aren’t flashy nor of big production; is that fair? Even if they’ve worked with a wide variety of people and are considered a legend in their field, by their peers?
Who do you reckon is generally more respected, and who do you reckon is more influential? The artist who doesn’t write music but is a fantastic singer; or the songwriter who does write massive hits, but doesn’t sing? The artist who writes songs as well, and is much loved for it; or the popular singer who ‘sings’ covers via autotune? It’s a conundrum, and I’m sure each person will have a million different opinions about what’s most important- but I reckon if you don’t have a good song, then you have nothing. With the above paragraph being my thoughts from a while ago about Richard Marx, one of the artists I deem to be the most influential of all time, of which I briefly outlined that how sometimes being a songwriter and overshadowed by the singers of this generation, is a very real thing indeed; I feel as though right now the line is blurring a bit- and that songwriters and singers who only do one or the other are becoming more of a dying breed. Not to say that only-singers and only-songwriters are bad… but the singer/songwriters are respected a whole lot more. However, an album released this past week that has flipped the switch on the role of the songwriter moving forward. Diane Warren, known for hits like “How Do I Live” (Leann Rimes), “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” (Aerosmith), “I Was Here” (Beyonce), “There You’ll Be” (Faith Hill), “I Turn To You” (Christina Aguilera), “I Will Be Here For You” (Michael W. Smith), “Listen With Your Heart” (Cece Winans) and “Because You Loved Me” (Celine Dion) to name a few; has unveiled her brand new album. Her first- in fact. Diane Warren: The Cave Sessions, Vol. 1 is a unique project, as Diane doesn’t sing on these songs. But she does write all of these melodies, and she has released this body of work under her own name. There are around about 20 artists who are singing on these 15 tracks- and though it seems like this album is a mish-mash, that’s only true in part. Sure, there’s a lot of genres encompassed here, and a lot of broad themes as well; but I firmly believe that regardless whether you resonate with this project or not, Diane Warren: The Cave Sessions, Vol. 1 will revolutionise the music industry. Just like how producers like Marshmello, The Chainsmokers, Alesso, Galantis and Kygo are all dominating the music industry with their own genre-bending albums and songs that have been released under their own name; Diane’s debut project has set a precedent. And it is that other songwriters may follow her trend and release albums with their own name attached. Imagine- a Justin Paul & Benj Pasek album. Or a David Foster album. Or a Shane McAnally album. However these potential future albums may look like, Diane has led the way in boldly taking a risk and putting her name out there. But… does this album, regardless how these songs sound like, feel like a cohesive body of work, and does it immediately make you think of Diane Warren? Or does this album feel like a ‘compilation’ album that screams ‘money-grab’ and ‘someone seeking attention’ even if it isn’t?
I don’t know, when there’s 12 writers on a song, what exactly they’re doing? Are they getting the coffee? Coming up with a hi-hat pattern in the bridge? I don’t need a writing camp. I am a writing camp. [But] the good thing about me singing is that nobody will ever say, ‘Wow, I wonder if I can sing that as good.’ Whenever someone doesn’t get it [and turns down a song], I kind of think that. I’m like, ‘I know what I’m talking about, just do the song.’ Sometimes I talk someone into it and I’ve never been wrong.
My mom [who’s sceptical] used to say, ‘That song’s really great but take it to Ralphs [supermarket] and see if they’ll give you groceries for it.’ It’s not that she didn’t believe in me, but how do you make a living as a songwriter? It’s a one in a million thing to be successful and to be as successful as I am is one in a billion, probably. I am now the only woman in the history of the Academy Awards to be nominated this many times without winning, which I’m kind of proud of. If I could have won one time and then not ever been nominated again, I would definitely choose the longevity game.
I had a meeting with him [John Legend] some years ago, seven years ago, something like that. He came to my office and I was playing him songs I thought were really good for him, which he didn’t think were good for him. Then I said, ‘Well, I just wrote this new song; I’m not sure if this is right for you’. But he loved it. We literally went into the studio the next day at his studio at his house, just him and piano, and it was stunning.
He loved it, and was like, ‘OK, that’s going to be on my next album’. [but that didn’t end up happening]…to me, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever heard. I was like, this song has to come out, even if I had to put it on my record. It kind of got me thinking, wait, why can’t I do what DJs, what producers do? You know, why can’t I curate a record? You have people like Mark Ronson, DJ Khaled, Calvin Harris, whoever, all these DJ-producers. I thought, ‘Why can’t I do the songwriter version of that? The thing that’s the same is the artists are doing all the work. But it’s the first time that my name’s been on a record, so it’s really cool.
On paper, Diane Warren: The Cave Sessions, Vol. 1 is a list of who’s who in pop, country, Latin, R&B, rap and inspirational. There’s at least a representative here from almost all genres (aside from gospel and CCM), and the fact that Diane all of wrote these songs, is remarkable. This album is bound to point those unfamiliar with her work (like myself) in the direction of her lengthy song-writing discography, as we look upon this extensive list in awe and respect. If you’re just familiar with the ballads that Diane has written over the years, then this album will show you that Diane is more than competent in writing her own pop summer jam or smooth R&B melody. Yet the fact that Diane can write all of these songs that are vastly different in lyrical content, theme and musical composition, and excel so freakishly so, so much so that we all aren’t aware we’re listening to a Diane Warren song in the first place; well that kind of worries me. If you’re only seeing that ‘Diane Warren’ stamp on songs similar to the ballads… then how can this musically diverse album, as eclectic, moving, inspiring and powerful as it is, direct anyone to Diane’s song writing discography, or move so much to impress anyone? Is Diane’s biggest strength- her seamless ability to write hits in a variety of genres- her biggest weakness, of being not ‘niche’ enough?
I guess that’s up to you all to judge, as many of you may be experts at listening to Diane Warren’s songs compared to myself. But from first glance at these 15 songs on this specific album, can I say that “these songs are good and enjoyable, but they do not point to Diane Warren– a specific way of songwriting”? And this should be the point of the album, should it not? It’s a big detraction from the songs themselves if all throughout my listening experience, I’m trying to find the signature sound that runs throughout these 15 tracks (and seemingly not finding any, unfortunately!) as opposed to enjoying the songs on their own merits and being captivated by them because they’re good! However, if we forget that it’s a Diane Warren album… how do the songs sound then? Can I say hopeful, inspiration, dare I say, better than if they were all part of the same collection, of which they actually are?
Apart from the songwriter, these melodies share nothing much in common. But they are enjoyable… although can I say that perhaps they’d be better hits if they were listed as 15 songs by 15 individual artists instead of under one ‘artist’ name? “She’s Fire”, with G-Eazy and Santana, is a rap/R&B song that isn’t really my preferred genre, whereby the persona speaks about a lover that is somewhat of a firecracker- a one-night stand. However they do know that they’re being played and that that relationship isn’t healthy for them; and it is this song that is a warning to us all to always be in relationships that build us up instead of relationships that tear us down; and Diane needs to be congratulated for stepping out of the box and writing something different. “Seaside”, with pop singers Rita Ora, Sofia Reyes and Latin band Reik, is a summery anthem of pop goodness that speaks about having a relaxed state of mind and just living life to the full at the beach, or at your own place of relaxation (and isn’t a song that is that deep, but is needed during the pandemic that is COVID-19!); while the groovy jazz and R&B inspired “Sweet” features Pentatonix and Jon Batiste, and is a track that speaks about the happiness that one feels when in a secure relationship- an emotion we all can and should feel with the people around us who love us dearly.
Spanish/Latin flavoured pop songs is the ‘name of the game’ next, as Luis Fonsi delivers an emphatic and beautifully sung pop/R&B melody “When We Dance Slow” (in both English and Spanish), which is an epic love song at its core; while the acoustic guitar ballad “I Save Me” with Maren Morris, is a hard-hitting melody about being your own hero and realising that you can only depend on yourself rather than someone else who may let you down. It’s a song similar in theme to Daughtry’s “Waiting For Superman”, and shatters the concept of reliance on someone else for acceptance and love; as Diane invites us into the notion that the only person we need love from and need to impress is ourselves, which should free us into being the people that we’d like to spend time with and to be around. “Where Is Your Heart”, a harrowing and heartbreaking melody about a broken relationship and someone moving on from their ex with someone new, and THE song to kickstart this project, is an album highlight and is led by Jon Legend in a song similar in mood and sound to John’s smash hit “All Of Me”; while Diane encourages Ty Dolla $ign to sing instead of usually rapping, in the subdued, reflective ballad “Drink You Away”. A melody whereby the persona recounts that they cannot live without their ex and that there’s not enough alcohol to ‘drink you away’, Diane’s prowess as a writer is exemplary within these past couple of tracks; and this is also the case with the heartbreaking piano ballad “You Go First”. A melody sung by James Arthur, the track speaks for itself as the persona encourages their partner to break up with them because they know they aren’t good for each other, but it’s hard because they’re still in love; and it’s songs like these that- together with “She’s Fire”, encourage us to get our relationships right the first time!
“Not Prepared For You”- an album highlight, led by ex-Fifth Harmony vocalist Lauren Jauregui, really showcases the vocals of one of today’s rising pop stars, as Lauren vividly describes the ‘love at first sight’ moment that sometimes we can feel with those we believe to be our soulmates (and in fact, is this song ripping into those of us who believe in ‘the one’ or is it being genuine?); while the slower-paced country ballad “You Kind Of Beautiful” is also a stand-out, and is led by Jimmie Allen. It’s sweet songs like these that make me forget the current problems of COVID-19 and everything else that comes with it, as Jimmie champions his partner and sings about her beauty; while the mysterious alternative rock melody and emotional tune “Domino” features LP and is a compelling song about a twisted relationship and the persona singing to their soon-to-be-ex that their heart is going to be broken and is going to fall like a domino because of them and their lifestyle. It’s a warning type of song again, like “She’s Fire” and “You Go First”- a melody that encourages us to always surround ourselves with friends and family and loved ones that respect us as people; and if Diane Warren is the catalyst for us to start thinking about changing our relationships from something destructive to something positive… then I guess that’s a good thing, don’t you reckon?
Given that Diane has written with and for Celine Dion a multitude of times, it’s a no brainer that she’s present on Diane’s album, don’t you think? Celine sings on the pop/electronic ballad “Superwoman”, and though Celine is a legend in her own right, the song, which speaks about letting others know that we can’t live up to their expectations of being perfect, and that we all make mistakes; is a melody that sadly underwhelms, with autotune being abundant here. “Times Like These”, with Darius Rucker, is a country/pop fusion ballad speaking vaguely about the struggles that an adversity like COVID-19 brings, and sadly is a melody that is catchy yet forgettable at the same time, although there’s no denying the heart and passion of Darius. Thankfully, “Grow Old With Me” is a winner in all facets in my own opinion, as this sweet love song sung beautifully and powerfully by both James Morrison and Leona Lewis, is a vulnerable and emotional love song at its core, a track epitomising the ‘love at first sight’ concept at its most sweetest. Diane Warren: The Cave Sessions, Vol. 1 then ends with the piano led anthemic ballad “Blessings”. Sung by Paloma Faith, the powerful, inspiring and encouraging melody speaks about overcoming adversity and seeing the hard times gone by as being ‘blessings’… is this the ‘mainstream’ version of “Blessings” by Laura Story? A song that makes us think about whether the hard times in our lives are needed to shape our character and to let us grow from our experiences, Diane ends her first album on a positive note- and certainly gives us plenty of shining moments, along with a few forgettable offerings.
It’s something I would never do [sell my songs]… If they’re paying you 20 times what your catalogue is worth, I could see why people would do it, especially if they need the money. I don’t need the money. This is my soul and my soul wouldn’t be for sale at any price. [Could someone feasibly live off the proceeds of just one song?] Probably. You could live pretty good on How Do I Live. It depends on how you live, right? To me it’s like, ‘This is a great song, let’s get it on the radio!’ But it’s like, ‘Well, no, you have to build a story.’ F*** that. If the Beatles or Prince existed now, I have no idea how that would have worked. They would have had to do TikTok campaigns and if that didn’t work, the label wouldn’t push their music. Who the f*** knows? But it still comes down to an undeniable song. I still believe that. I’ve always been about showing up and…working. It’s one thing to have dreams and aspirations, but without the work it doesn’t happen.
I’ve always been a sponge with influences. I’ve older sisters, so I heard music when I was born, in the house. And my mom and dad listened to show tune records, and I listened. I grew up in the Golden Age of radio, so I got to hear everything. Motown, Beatles, Stevie Wonder, I mean, just all the best music ever. You take that all in and you know as a listener and as a future craftsperson, you know. I think it just comes naturally to me that I can work with the rock bands, whether it’s Aerosmith and Kiss and those kinds of people, and then I can work with Celine and I can work with Beyoncé. Then I have my whole Latin world, you know, and I have my country world. I show up; that’s my process. I put the time and I put the hours and I put the work in. As soon as I get off the phone, off the Zoom, I will try to finish a song.
On their own, these 15 songs are unique- some fun and fluffy and others heavy and poignant. All of them… I guess they’re tailor made for the specific artist singing them. But herein lies the point. This is a Diane Warren album. Not a compilation album with 20 different artists. These songs are meant to have a common thread, and they don’t. That’s not to say these songs aren’t good- they are. I reckon “Where Is Your Heart”, “Not Prepared For You” and “Grow Old With Me” are moving, powerful and heart-warming melodies… and “Seaside” is just a fun, summery song that brings a smile to my face. But can these songs coexist together in the same album and make sense? Maybe I’m not the right person to understand this album given I’m not a gigantic Diane Warren fan. But if I can’t see the point of Diane Warren: The Cave Sessions, Vol. 1, then how can anyone else? How can the average joe on the street? This isn’t a diss on Diane Warren. She truly is a legend in her own right. And these songs are on the whole beautifully written and sung. But to call it a Diane Warren album? Sorry… but I’m still left scratching my head. What do you all reckon? Are you confused like I have been? Like I still am?
5 songs to listen to: Seaside, Where Is Your Heart, Not Prepared For You, You Kind Of Beautiful, Grow Old With Me
Score: 4/5 (judging on the merit of the individual songs), 3/5 (as a package)
RIYL: LeAnn Rimes, Ben Platt, Delta Goodrem, Carrie Underwood, Camila Cabello, Ava Max, Florida Georgia Line