Review by Sam Waite
A household name for her work as Frozen’s snow queen Elsa, Idina Menzel has not only had the kind of career many aspiring performers dream of - she's had a few of them. She's performed on Broadway and West End stages, working with luminaries from Larson to Schwartz to Kitt along the way, as well as guest starring on an enormously popular TV series (Glee, as the mother of Lea Michele’s character) and even managed to snag choice roles in a handful of Disney films. In between these projects, she's always found her way back to music, where her interests and forays are similarly eclectic.
Seven years on from her last pop album (2016’s Idina) and almost four from her last solo effort (2016’s Christmas: A Season of Love), Menzel returned to the studio to create something new – Drama Queen, an album of disco-tinged dance-pop. A sharp, well-produced half hour of nostalgic grooves, the album finds Menzel in strong voice and in overwhelming confidence – after her recent pride performances, Idina’s songwriting and devotion to the dance floor is firmly rooted in the camp, kitschy world of a gay club, where the songs will undoubtedly find a like-minded audience.
Opener “Move” introduces us to the fun-loving, dance-crazy Menzel we’ll be spending our time with for the next half hour, as she insistently purrs that anyone in the way of her night out had better step aside. Her vocals have been compared to the likes of Streisand and Merman for her powerful belts, but these higher, girlish tones have a hint of Minogue to them that beautifully contrasts the pulsing, propulsive beats from co-producers Chantry Johnson and Mitch Allan.
There is a mercifully brief moment of concern when “Beast” seems too mid-tempo, with too smooth and sedated a beat from Sir Nolan, and the Jake Shears co-write “Dramatic” feels like filler until the chorus kicks in and proves to be a campy, celebratory song asking a lover to accept the narrators high-maintenance tendencies. From there the album never hits a bum note, gliding directly into the romantic, insanely catchy “My Love For Life” where Menzel shows off not only those famous high notes, but some gorgeous and rich lower tones.
Other highlights of a strong foray into a new genre include the Nile Rogers collaboration, “Paradise”, which is exactly as good and exactly as dripping in nostalgia as you'd expect a collaboration from a musical theatre diva and the man behind Chic to be. There's also the celebratory, tongue in cheek take on the degree of adoration she receives, and a nod to the confidence in one's self explored in many tracks, “Royalty”. Proclaiming herself as royalty, it's easy to draw parallels to her role in Disney's Frozen films, but here we find Menzel crowning herself as the queen of the dance floor, and by the end of this album she makes a decent case for it.
Going out with a bang, as you'd expect from the woman who introduced the world to the Act One finale to end all Act One finales, (Wicked, people!) the natural and charismatic storyteller many have loved for years but some have adored for decades makes an appearance on the final number. “Madison Hotel” takes us through the debauchery and good times of the titular establishment, almost a Studio 54-lite for a less scandalous world, before closing with a glorious and cinematic outro, during which you can almost see the camera pulling away from this final scene.
An exercise in looking backwards as well as a suggestion of what this already legendary diva still has to offer, Drama Queen won't make fans of her doubters, but that was never its intention. Idina Menzel has a lengthy and diverse career behind her, and it's clearer than ever that she knows who her audience is and that she wants to have as much fun with them as she can, and that her growing successes have made her comfortable to explore her own interests without concerns of what's most commercial or how to get the most clicks. She's here, to dance and to stay, and she'll hang up the sequins when she's good and ready.
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