BootLeg Betty

CD Review: Jackpot

Feminist Review
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Bette Midler – Jackpot: The Best Bette

Bette Midler’s recording career seemed to run parallel to her film career, often as if the two were in competition with each other. Her debut album, 1972’s The Divine Miss M was as close as Midler would get to capturing her strange talent on vinyl. She combines the brass of Sophie Tucker, the bluesy attitude of Janis Joplin (whom she played in an Oscar-nominated performance in The Rose), and the vulnerable soulfulness of Judy Garland. Never again would she duplicate the critical success of her first album, though she did have big hits, most notably in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when she remade herself as a Streisand-like pop balladeer.

Jackpot is a great compilation, putting together Midler’s signature songs with some choice album tracks. The best songs on the album are from her first record; “Hello in There” is a stark, remarkably restrained ballad—especially when compared to the overblown, bathos-filled Broadway showstoppers she sold millions of later. “Do You Want to Dance” is sexy and “Friends” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” are great at capturing her wit and humor. A latter-career version of “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)” is well done, with subtle vocals by Midler.

“The Rose,” the title theme to the Joplin film, is another great cut. The ticking piano and the mournful harmony is beautiful. Also from that film’s soundtrack is her cover of “When a Man Loves a Woman,” performed in a ragged, scorched vocal that makes her case as a rock singer. Her cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden” is also pretty good.

As great as these songs are, the rest of the album contains Midler’s most disappointing and overindulgent work, which is, ironically, her most successful. “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “From a Distance” are two of her biggest hits, but they’re also treacly, soapy numbers that negate Midler’s expressive voice. The songs are overproduced, with bland keyboards fighting space with blaring synthesizers and faux gospel backup singers.

There are no huge omissions, though it would’ve been great if the compliation had more of her mid 1990s dance club hits. Also, the material tends to lean toward the soundtrack to Beaches and her 1991 hit album, Some People’s Lives; both were her biggest sellers, but they also tend to be her least satisfying artistically. While buyers are treated to a so-so unreleased track, “Something Your Heart Has Been Telling Me,” it would’ve been great if Midler had added on some more new material. Still, if there is one Bette Midler album to buy, aside from her excellent debut, this would be it.

Review by Peter Piatkowsk

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