BetteBack September 1998: Bathhouse Betty Review (Toronto Star)

Toronto Star
Jane Stevenson — Toronto Sun
September 1998


For those of you who may have forgotten, Midler got her start singing in New York City’s Continental Baths during the ’70s.

And the inspiration for the title of this latest album — Midler’s first since 1995’s Bette Of Roses — was apparently a drunken fan shouting “Bathhouse Betty!” outside her beachhouse one night.

Midler, who wanted to get back to the campiness of some of her earlier albums, does so less successfully on this uneven collection that is in desperate need of a musical identity.

Three cases in point: The truly awful I’m Beautiful, which begins with a snippet of the film The Producers and falls apart shortly afterward.

(The sure sign of trouble here is that this song was recommended to Midler by her hairdresser, who I’m sure is a lovely person, but shouldn’t be anyone’s musical adviser.)

Two others that cause some major cringing is Midler’s cover of an offbeat Ben Folds Five song Boxing and her attempt at funky r & b on the poorly named Big Socks, written by Bobby Brown collaborator Chuckii Booker.

As for the rest of the album, thankfully there is something to recommend, and with Canadian content to boot.

First of all, uberproducer David Foster co-wrote (with Carole King and Carole Bayer Sager) and helmed the first single, My Own True Friend, from the Meryl Streep film One True Thing.

It’s pretty overblown stuff, but expect to hear it often if this movie is a hit.

Other ballads that get solid Midler treatment are Leonard Cohen’s Song Of Bernadette — although truth be told, co-writer Jennifer Warnes does it better — and Adam Cohen’s Lullaby In Blue.

Midler also doesn’t neglect her Hawaiian roots on the oldie but goodie Ukulele Lady, while big-band swing saves I’m Hip from becoming a parody of itself.

The Royal Crown Revue join Midler effectively on One Monkey Don’t Stop The Show, although my favourites are the old torch song I Sold My Heart To The Junkman and the retro-sounding Laughing Matters, from the show When Pigs Fly.

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