A lot of big-name artists released well-publicized albums this fall, among them Barbra, Aretha, Annie, Billy and Gaga. I sampled them all and heard some of them entirely, but so far the only one I have felt compelled to buy is this one by Bette Midler. The others didn't measure up for various reasons, while Bette's is satisfying for various reasons, which I will try to enumerate.
First I think is the utter simplicity of it. The production is slick, but there are no pretensions. It is an album of pop music covers from various girl groups, and that's it. Since the beginning of her career, Bette has done this type of "retro" music better than anyone else. Also, unlike some of the other artists I mentioned, Bette's voice still sounds as good as it ever did, to me. I have to disagree with some other reviewers on a couple of issues. One said that the vocals sound "phoned in", and a couple of others described them as "karaoke". No offense, but I don't find this at all. To me, the upbeat numbers are joyous and exuberant, and the serious ones have nuanced feeling. Highlights for me include the following:
"Be My Baby" - I always wanted a really vibrant version of that classic song, and now I have it.
"Baby It's You" - It is mellow, but subtly serious.
"He's Sure The Boy I Love" - Bette and Darlene Love have great fun on this duet, and Darlene still sounds fabulous too.
"Come And Get These Memories" - This slowed down version is very affecting.
"Too Many Fish In The Sea" - Very high energy with some funny spoken lines.
"Teach Me Tonight" - In the style of "Old Cape Cod" from "Songs For The New Depression".
"Waterfalls" - The crown jewel of the album. Despite the risk, Bette took a very popular song and turned it into a superb vocal performance.
"Give Him A Great Big Kiss" - Campy just like "Leader Of The Pack" from her first album. And we don't get to hear Shangri-Las covers often enough.
Even Bette's version of "Mr. Sandman", a song I never really liked, is tolerable. The only track I don't care for is "You Can't Hurry Love". For some reason I have never liked any version other than the original by Diana Ross & The Supremes, so I can't really blame Bette for that.
The album debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, so I'd say Ms. Midler is off to a good start with this one. And from the beginning I had a feeling that it would be a winner. I feel this is an album that she was destined to make. I have only one regret: why, oh why, didn't she include "He's A Rebel"?