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"
Stone Magazine (RS 258), Peter Herbst
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.
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
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.
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.
Guide, Robert Christgau
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
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.
Weekly, Jess Cagle
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
C. Walls, Publication Unknown
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
in this motley collection of golden oldies. double-entendre blues, and characterless
contemporary tunes lurks the real Bette Midler. Where? Who knows?
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.
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.
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.
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."