Something of an overlooked gem among the albums Aretha Franklin recorded during her creative peak, Spirit in the Dark is an album that is overshadowed by albums that are considerably lighter in tone. This gradual swing towards a more serious vibe was well timed, as Franklin had worked hard to establish herself as a commercial artist of significant standing, and now she was well placed to become an artist of no little gravitas. Effectively, this makes Spirit in the Dark her ‘mature’ album, as she takes stock of how far she had come since I Never Loved a Man The Way I Loved You, becoming Soul’s new benchmark for excellence.
While the commercial streak is not entirely obscured, it certainly plays a less significant element on Spirit in the Dark. Even the album cover is a little more downbeat, especially when you compare it to the bright and breezy shot on the cover of Aretha Now! The whole of Spirit in the Dark sounds like Franklin is determined to transition away from being a pop singer to something a little more permanent, with it’s return to a her gospel roots and Franklin’s exploration of the blues. Sure, she was already being referred to as the Queen of Soul, but Franklin was still relentlessly working towards becoming one of music’s undeniable icons.
Spirit in the Dark is an album that you would probably play in moments of quiet reflection, rather than to get a party started, but that’s more to do with it’s tendency towards a grainier tone. One of Franklin’s more heavyweight albums, Spirit in the Dark did not achieve enormous commercial success, instead taking a more scenic route towards being regarded as one of her finest work. Sometimes the slow-burn is more effective than the big impact, and Spirit in the Dark is a fine example of an album that takes its time to impress you.