Review: “Don’t Ask” by Tina Arena (CD, 1994)

Today’s POP RESCUE from an uncertain fate is the 1994 second album Don’t Ask by Australian singer-songwriter, Tina Arena. Is owning this album beyond questioning, or is it like a ball and chain? Read on…

Tina Arena - Don't Ask (1994) album
Tina Arena – Don’t Ask (1994) album

This 10 track CD opens with lead single Chains. Finger snaps, hand claps, and a bass drum drop us straight into the song, with some sultry ‘ooh‘, ‘aahs‘. This is quite a simple start, but as the song gradually builds, she’s joined by a funky bass line and synths. Things reach a peak at about 2m 30s, where she unleashes her vocal power that we know she’s been holding back so far. The track was deservedly a huge hit #6 single, her first in the UK.

That’s followed by Heaven Help My Heart, and we’re treated again to a lovely bass line and a simple beat. The track is a fairly upbeat pop-rock song. Tina’s vocals seem effortless and confident, and at times remind me of a combination of Alison Moorer, Celine Dion, and Louise. The track stood as the album’s 2nd UK single, but it failed to capture the same level of success as Chains, reaching #25 in the summer of 1995.

Sorrento Moon (I Remember) is next. This stood as the album’s 4th UK single, faring slightly better by reaching #22. It has a lovely more acoustic and warm feel too it. Shuffling beats, cello, and layers of acoustic guitars fit with the Sorrento theme. It’s a lovely light little song.

Next up is piano-led Wasn’t It Good. This song is pretty stripped back at the start, allowing Tina’s vocals to sound rich and pure. She’s joined by a strings section for the chorus, which gives this beautiful ballad the perfect backing. In the last 1m 30 a beat kicks in, giving the track a different feeling, although about half-way through the repeated lyrics of ‘wasn’t it good, wasn’t it fine‘ just remind me of I Know Him So Well by Barbara Dickson and Elaine Paige.

We’re treated again to some really nice funky bass and it’s joined by funky guitars too in the intro of next song Message. Again, this is another example of a simple song that works well and allows Tina’s vocals to shine perfectly. The track does remind me of something that you might expect from Lisa Stansfield or the later sound of Yazz.

Love Is The Answer is up next, and we’re into a more 90’s pop style. This is a really nice and catchy little song. The drum machines shuffle along here perfectly, and Tina delivers some perfect pop vocals. A great little song that should have been given a single release. The remixes would no doubt have been a joy to hear too.

Up next is Greatest Gift, and it’s synth vs piano, as a soft drum machine beat sits under Tina and her wonderful vocal harmonies. It’s another song that gives Tina space to show off her vocals, and yet manages to introduce layers of instruments, including backing vocals from The Water Family, who put in a near gospel sound towards the end, and giving Tina a nice vocal contrast to work with.

That’s The Way A Woman Feels follows this, bursting with big guitars, drums, and brass – like a big 80’s hit from someone like Living In A Box. Tina takes the vocals with great ease again here, delivering flawless 80’s power hit despite it being an original song. The track was a single in Australia only.

That’s followed by Be A Man, which has a nice hard pop-rock chugging feeling to it, again channeling a kind of 80’s feel. Tina’s vocals really suit this song well, as it delivers some serious power, and she’s got the voice to duel with it. A really nice song.

The album closes with Standing Up, a defiant ending to this album. The track is laden with plenty of strummed acoustic guitars, and a Hammond organ that helps to throw in some nicely placed riffs. There’s also some synth brass too, helping to keep this track up-tempo, bright, and a really cheerful ending to this album – ‘ready for love, first time in my life‘ she sings. What’s not to feel good about that?

Tina Arena’s lead single ‘Chains’ (1994).

Verdict

Over all, this album is a really nice collection of songs, with slick production and well crafted lyrics and melodies.

The edition I’ve rescued and reviewed here is the Australian one which holds 10 tracks, whereas the International Edition contained 11 tracks with a cover of Maria McKee’s Show Me Heaven added as the album’s 3rd single in the UK. Sadly, that track is a slower and more downbeat remake, and it stumbled, reaching #29 in the UK. It’s ill suited, and only 4yrs after it was such a huge UK hit.

The rest of the album is a really nice listen though, and the highlights are clearly Chains, Sorrento Moon, That’s The Way A Woman Feels, and Love Is The Answer. Greatest Gift and Message are the weaker tracks here, but not by a lot.

Rated 4 stars - You're missing a treat!
  • POP RESCUE 2021 RATING: 4 / 5
  • 1994 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #11
  • POP RESCUE COST: £1.00 from a Cancer Research UK store.

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