* * 1/2
You want high concept? Go listen to Frank Sinatra's "Duets," which he recorded without ever setting foot in the same room with his collaborators.
But if it's truly an inspired pairing you're after, nothing from the Chairman of the Board can match Elton John and Leonard Cohen playing off of each other on "Born to Lose," an old country song popularized by Ray Charles. Cohen's trademark spare, brooding vocals pose a challenge to John, who works hard to subdue his usually chirpy singing style. The result is alluring and unexpected.
The rest of the album's matchups don't fare as well. RuPaul and John on a remake of "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" sounds better on paper than it does on record, and pairings with Little Richard and Kiki Dee are downright tedious.
The guest spots that are pleasurable--k.d. lang, Tammy Wynette, PM Dawn--are winning more because those singers always give distinctive, commanding performances than because of any chemistry with John. Still, fun is fun, and "Duets" is generally an amusing diversion.
New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).