Billed as Chaka Khan’s first new album in a decade (ever since the Prince-produced Come 2 My House), Funk This actually has about as many cover songs as the album Khan’s press release neglected to mention: the languorous lounge-pop standards release Classikhan. There is Jimi Hendrix’s “Castles Made of Sand,” Prince’s “Sign O’ the Times,” Joni Mitchell’s “Ladies Man,” and even a medley of two of her own songs she originally recorded with ‘70s R&B group Rufus: “Pack’d My Bags” and “You Got the Love.” That’s not even counting the interpolation of the climactic chord progressions from the coda “I’m Every Woman” at the end of “Times,” a characteristically overstated rendition of what may be one of Prince’s most understated singles. (The only thing she undercuts are current events, since all the song’s 1987 headlines—yes, even the one about the Challenger explosion—are left intact, rendering the song awkwardly apolitical. Bad news, considering politics were just about all the song had going for it in the first place.)
But the “original material” discrepancy isn’t the most flagrant misrepresentation surrounding Funk This. As someone who probably listens to “At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up)” more often than Paul Shaffer uses it to segue to commercial breaks on Letterman, I’m mostly concerned with the album’s dearth of the Funk Bomb. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are both on hand, and the album’s textures sound as luxurious as their price tag would suggest (the basslines have the thrust even when they’re not particularly doing anything), but they’re also mired knee-deep (and unfortunately not “Knee Deep”) in their latter day MOR sound.
But let’s be honest: Most of the albums Rufus put out in their prime had only two or three down and dirty, “Slow Screw Against the Wall” numbers padded out by meandering lite rock-funk, so Funk This still stands as something like a return to form. Khan’s vocal delivery, which is the only thing anyone listening to the album even cares about, is more resonant and versatile than it was on Classikhan. More surprising, she occasionally aims for introspection by swooping down into her husky contralto register. Between the low notes and her dependably crisp, reedy high ones, she’s still every woman.