Sharon's Talkfest  | Aretha's Comeback

Sharon Osbourne's Talkfest: More Turmoil

Sharon Osbourne didn't show up for work yesterday at her new talk show, sources tell me.

Osbourne called in on Saturday from England and informed her bosses that she would not be taping shows today, tomorrow or Thursday as planned. Instead, she promised, she'd do a Friday show and maybe one for Saturday.

Luckily, these shows are only tests for her planned launch on Sept. 15. But still, they're supposed to happen. Guests and audiences were already booked.

Was Sharon giving Warner Bros./Telepictures a not-so-subtle message concerning her feelings about the show? Maybe.

As I first reported back on June 12 and again last week, the feisty Sharon is in the middle of turmoil concerning her unborn talk show.

Over the weekend, I am told, three more producers from Warner's cancelled "Jenny Jones" trash talkfest were imported from Chicago to join the "Osbourne" staff. They brought with them an associate producer as well.

Add this group to the "Jenny Jones" executive producer who arrived last week with her assistant, and you have recipe for a showdown in Talk City.

With all these arrivals, I am told, there have also been some departures — some that have not been so pleasant.

The word around the set is that phone records are being examined for calls between the studio and entertainment reporters! Sounds like the makings of a whole episode to me: "I Spy for a TV Show!"

(Sharon: Teddy, is there anything you want to tell Cindy while we're on the air?

Teddy: I slept with the security guard to get your phone logs!

Cindy: I'll kill you!

Sharon: Let's bring that security guard out now. Bruno?)

When I met Sharon last February, she seemed like a lot of fun and very smart. I kind of feel sorry for her now. She is surrounded by people giving her all kinds of advice, and she is very isolated from the "outside world" such as it is.

Too bad! This woman was wise enough to fire Smashing Pumpkins several years ago right after she signed on to manage them. Her quote, more or less, was "life's too short for this."

Since she can't possibly need the money from this talk show, how much longer before she realizes life is too short to referee estranged family members who've never met and aren't sure they're even related?

Not too long at all, I'll bet. I wonder if MTV is allowed to film the backstage drama at the talk show? That will make an excellent new season of "The Osbournes," don't you think?

'So Damn Happy' About Aretha's 4-Star Comeback

Here's some good news: Aretha Franklin is about to stage a huge comeback.

It's about time.

On Sept. 16, Arista Records is going to release Aretha's first new album since 1999. It's called "So Damn Happy," and we should be so damn happy that this project came together.

I've been talking to producer Jimmy Jam about this project for what seems like years. There was also the question of whether Aretha would stay on Arista or follow Clive Davis to J Records. But she stayed on Arista, and the label's L.A. Reid should be so damn happy she did.

Maybe you've already heard the wonderful single Arista released in advance, "The Only Thing Missin'." Like the rest of the album, this track is catchy, catchy, catchy — with a great hook and spare instrumentals.

Instead of tricking Aretha up like Beyoncé Knowles, producer Troy Taylor checks back to the gorgeous days of Franklin on Stevie Wonder's "Until You Come Back to Me." It's all about her voice, and she — to paraphrase the late Rufus Thomas, who was married by Aretha's father, Reverend Franklin, many decades ago — can "sayng." Not "sing." "Sayng."

Arista didn't need to write "The Queen of Soul" on the review CD they sent out. The royalty part is self-evident.

My favorite tracks so far are the ones written by Miss Aretha herself — the title song, "So Damn Happy," and "You Are My Joy." People forget that Aretha wrote some of her best and biggest hits, such as "Think," "(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone," "Spirit in the Dark," "Day Dreaming," "Rock Steady," and "Who's Zooming Who?"

Closer to Franklin's comfort zone of gospel, these two songs are home runs in every sense. On the former, Aretha writes herself an up-tempo rave that recalls Natalie Cole's "This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)." On the latter, which is far too short, Franklin shows that she can write her own ballad/anthem right up there with the best. She knows where to put her voice and how to use it effectively better than anyone.

Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis supply a big hit for Aretha with "Everybody's Somebody's Fool," Mary J. Blige guest stars on a kind of mellow disco thing called "Holdin' On," and again on "No Matter What," giving the Queen of Soul and the Queen of Hip-Hop a chance to meet musically; and heavyweights Burt Bacharach and Jerry Leiber co-wrote "Falling Out of Love"; and Franklin sings a new song called "That Ain't No Way" that weaves together elements of the original hit of the same name with "Respect."

And it works.

I have to give credit to Norman West , who wrote and produced a gospel hit called "Good News" for Franklin. And it shows how loyal Aretha is, since West is a Memphis stalwart.

An original member of the Soul Children, Norman sings and plays on everyone's albums from Memphis and Detroit and rarely gets the credit he deserves. He often serves as Al Green's musical director, too, schlepping around for Memphis's biggest diva — (or is it "divo"?) — without much appreciation. Bravo, Aretha, because "Good News" is all that.

I can't say enough good things about "So Damn Happy." Just think — in this age of fake divas who warble or yodel songs stitched together from someone else's samples, here is the real thing.

Aretha Franklin is old enough to be the mother and then some of most of those new stars, but on "So Damn Happy" she shows them once and for all how it's done. September 16 will be a great day for the failing music business.

Oh — and did I mention the Grammys? Because we'll be seeing a lot of Aretha on February 8, 2004. Pierre Cossette had better give her a seat close to the podium. She'll be up there a lot.