BetteBack: Roses – A Safe Bette

`Roses’: A Safe Bette
Article from:The Washington Post Article date:August 16, 1995 Author: Mike Joyce

The test for determining who will enjoy Bette Midler’s new album essentially boils down to a simple question. Which Midler do you prefer: the “Divine Miss M,” the outrageous pop diva who once dubbed her act “trash with flash”? Or the unapologetic Top 40 contender with a well-documented taste for songs as sentimental as “Wind Beneath My Wings” and as inspirational as “From a Distance”? Those who checked off the first choice might want to turn to the comics page right about now. To paraphrase one of Midler’s album titles, there’ll be no mud flung this time around.

On the contrary, “Bette of Roses” (Atlantic) is just what its name implies: a lavish bouquet of love songs and sweet nothings, tenderly arranged by a woman who has found great contentment and blessings in her personal life. If that sounds boring, well, it often is — but not because its premise is faulty. Given the right material, Midler could easily express the same sentiments with the warmth and charm she radiated when she bid adieu to Johnny Carson with “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)” during the final days of his “Tonight Show” reign. Unfortunately, the names of Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen and their ilk are not to be found among her new recording’s credits, only those of less gifted and distinctive tunesmiths.

The first single released, Maria McKee’s “To Deserve You,” defines the album’s frequently supplicating and suffocating tone. “If I could be granted a wish,” Midler ponders, “I’d shine in your eye like a jewel, how I want to deserve you.” Bracketing that tune are similarly lopsided romantic odes. “To Comfort You,” professes undying and selfless devotion (“I’m only here to comfort you” is the recurring and ultimately unnerving refrain); and “The Last Time” finds Midler sounding suddenly like the “Supine Miss M,” as she tells a lover who’s mistreated her that “my heart is weak/ My love is blind/ When your game is up/ I’ll still be by your side.”

There are, mercifully, more substantial ballads and romantic fables, such as “Bed of Roses” and “The Perfect Kiss,” both of which are dreamily orchestrated by Midler’s longtime producer, Arif Mardin. Cheryl Wheeler’s simple but effective vignette, “I Know This Town,” gets things off to a promising start and a slightly updated reprise of the country hit “I Believe in You” brings the session to a gentle, tuneful close. In between, however, it might just cross your mind that nothing would improve “Bette of Roses” more than a good pair of pruning shears.

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