Music And Concerts



Broken Blossom (1977)

Billboard peak: # 51

Tracks: "Make Yourself Comfortable" - "You Don't Know Me" - "Say Goodbye To Hollywood" - "I Never Talk To Strangers" - "Storybook Children" - "Red" - "Empty Bed Blues" - "Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes" - "Paradise" - "Yellow Beach Umbrella" - "Vie En Rose"

Rolling Stone Magazine (RS 258), Peter Herbst

By now it's generally accepted that Bette Midler is more than just a pose. Her Continental Baths days long behind her, she has continued to deliver enough flashes of vocal originality to suggest a potentially seminal talent, one that has less to do with camp histrionics than with effective emotional phrasing and considerable artistic range.

Unfortunately, Midler still seems unsure of herself and too often displays a penchant for pointless excess that invariably results in her worst singing. Though she usually avoided such self-conscious rough edges on Songs for the New Depression, her last studio album, she doesn't manage quite so well on the new one. Indeed, too much of the often charming Broken Blossom is rendered confusing and occasionally unpleasant by artificially revved-up endings and the aural equivalents of winking, near-leering posturing.

Midler doesn't need these devices. On such ballads as "Storybook Children," "Paradise" and even the moldy-fig standard, "La Vie En Rose," her transitions from wispiness to full-bodied emoting are intelligent, meaningful and well executed. Even when she's being deliberately campy on "Make Yourself Comfortable," she demonstrates she can soft sell humor; the scat singing here makes perfect sense.

Just as often, however, a tenderly wrought ballad will explode into gaudy overstatement. "You Don't Know Me," the Eddy Arnold/Cindy Walker country classic that became one of Ray Charles' best singles, has enough tears in its lyrics to fill a tub and needs no more than a careful, sensitive rendition. Midler's wild exercise in hand wringing does nothing but poke fun at the song, and I doubt that's what she had in mind. It just seems that sometimes Midler is so uncomfortable when she's merely singing a song that she feels compelled to revert to an earlier, cheaper style to jazz things up.

Strange as it may sound, Bette Midler is most suited, in terms of voice and perhaps even instinct, to be a conventional but characterful torch singer. If that's true, her contrivances may have something to do with where she's been, but they strike me as having little to do with who she is.

Consumer Guide, Robert Christgau

So she can translate Billy Joel into Phil Spector--she has nevertheless become, at least on record, just another pop singer, albeit with a few interesting idea. I ask you, is the redemption of Billy Joel fit work for a culture heroine? C

Valerie Potter, Q Magazine

From the same year, Broken Blossoms is a very different proposition, as Midler battles against inappropriate songs (Sammy Hagar's Red, Billy Joel's Say Goodbye To Hollywood) inadequately arranged on a record that is staid to the point of dullness.

Entertainment Weekly, Jess Cagle

She plumbs the depths of Eddy Arnold's ''You Don't Know Me,'' lifts ''La Vie en Rose'' from Edith Piaf, has almost too much fun on Billy Joel's ''Say Goodbye to Hollywood,'' and earns squatter's rights on every one. A


Richard C. Walls, Publication Unknown

Bette Midler's sweet potato face graced my TV set three times late in 77, each time giving intimations that she hasn't changed much, if at all, in the last five years. She appeared on the boring and unimaginative Rolling Stone Tenth Anniversary Special and didn't exactly help the show with her tired routine of risque jokes and camp songs. Then there was her own special and tho. like RoIling Stone, she kept the traditional television "special". pacing, there was the opening which was off the wall and hilarious (you had to be there). The body of the show was a mixture of her old and her new repertoire with a lotta stale jokes to maintain her New Yawk. Jewish drag queen persona. An entertaining show, but I wouJdn't want a record of it.

The third appearance was on the Dinah Shore Show, just talking, plugging her special, and she seemed the same as always cause even tho some of the expressions have changed, everything's still the pits or simply divine and there were a lot of patting-the-hair gestures. But when describing what she wanted her performane to be, she said, "I don't wanna sound corny or anything, but what I want is for them to be celebrations." Well, I don't wanna sound corny or anything either. but don't let the jmage of The Divine Miss Dead End kid you, this record shows she has changed and it's the best colletection she's put out yet. Not that there's been that many.

The main change is that Midler relies less here on cloying vocal mannerisms to get a song across- she sounds more than ever like a genuine chanteuse. less than ever like a burlesque of one. Also, tho the range of selectjons is as wide as ever. there are no cute novelty numbers that pale after two or three listenjngs- The productton is never overbearing except when it 's meant to be, as on "Paradise" with its appropriately Spectorish over-arrangement.

The first or two undeniable gems on the album is a duet with Tom Waits on Waits' "I Never Talk To Strangers." Two more disparate voices are hard to. imagine, but the song, a moody bar converstaion, is tailor-made and the experience totally musical. The second gem is "La Vie En Rose"-not a false note in it. At this point in her career Midler is a most convincing interpreter of Edith Piaf. I don'. think she could have done it five years ago- not straight, anyway.

The rest of the album is pretty straight too (as in "straight ahead", straight blues on "Empty Bed Blues," straight wistfulness on "A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes" straight sensuality on "Make Yourself Comfortable." The kid's growing up. If this album doesn't sell, she'1l probably go back to covering lousy 50's songs and hoary jazz warhorses. That alone should be motivation to buy.

D.H., Publication Unknown

Somewhere in this motley collection of golden oldies. double-entendre blues, and characterless contemporary tunes lurks the real Bette Midler. Where? Who knows?

There surely can be no doubt that Midler is one of the premier performers of the day. In nightclub. concert, or television appearances she is, a brilliant master of timing-balancing brightly bitchy one-liners with evocative interpretations of songs that range from pop standards to rhythm and blues. Alas, on her recent recordings little of that colorful panache, comes through.

A good part of the problem with "Broken Blossom" lies in the production and selection of material. The choice of producer Brooks Arthur has not proven quite as disastrous as the choice of Moogy Klingman for her last outing, but it ain't all that good, either. Arthur's most effective production style - a sort of modified. Joel Dorn-ish floating jazz, has been abandoned in favor of a faceless. let's-see-if-this-will-work attitude. Paradise and You Don't Know Me, for example, sink without a trace into a dense. Spectorish ocean of sound. Make Yourself Comfortable and Billy Joel's bright swipe, Say Goodbye To Hollywood, drift into silly satires of 50's rock & roll.

Empty Bed Blues and I Never Talk To Strangers are curiosities. The former is a gross, sexually insulting song that Bessie Smith recorded in 1928 under pressure to maintain her record sales with interpretations of suggestive material. Midler's fabled fascination with tackiness might have made it an understandable choice, but tackiness on top of tackiness is pushing matters a bit too far. Strangers performed as a duet with its author, Tom Waits, is a curious amalgam of Wait's tawdry imitation of Louis Armstrong and Midler's unsuccessful effort to clone herself into a jazz singer. Storybook Children and Red are undistinguished numbers that receive undistinguished treatment. Two ballads - A Dream Is A Wish You're Heart Makes and La Vie En Rose - are apparently intended as interpretive pieces de resistance; they are, instead, studies in excessive mannerisms. Only Yellow Beach Umbrella, a lightweight, optimistic song by Craig Doerge and Judy Henske, has the right production, the right style, and the right tinge of Midler acerbity.

That Midler can sing is beyond discussion. Both her natural instrument and her sense of how to use it are at least comparable with the skills of Barbra Streisand, her most obvious competitor. But Midler, since the success of her first recording, has sounded increasingly uncomfortable in the studio. The sarcastic bits of fluff that work, somehow, in her live performances sound silly and out of joint on record. (Her introductions to Dream and Strangers undercut whatever value the tunes might have had.) And the production gimmickery overwhelms whatever feelings - beyond her ever-constant sarcasm - she might project into these songs. The result is passive and antiseptic. Too bad. Bette Midler may be potentially the best new all-around entertainer to emerge in the Seventies. But you would never know it from her performances on "Broken Blossoms."