Music And Concerts




Songs for the New Depression (1976)

Billboard peak: # 27

Tracks: "Strangers In The Night" - "I Don't Want The Night To End" - "Mr. Rockefeller" - "Old Cape Cod" - "Buckets Of Rain" - "Love Says It's Waiting" - "Shiver Me Timbers / Samedi Et Venderedi" - "No Jestering" - "Tragedy" - "Marahuana" -
"Let Me Just Follow Behind"

Rolling Stone Magazine (RS 208), Stephen Holden

It took Bette Midler two and a half years to make her third album. But all Songs for the New Depression does is once again raise the question of how this gifted stage personality can capture on a record the ebullience, spontaneity and imagination of her performances. Clearly, as her selection of good, recent songs by Bob Dylan. Tom Waits, Nick Holmes and Phoebe Snow indicates, Midler wishes to be regarded as a versatile recording artist of mostly contemporary material as well as a popular entertainer. Yet these are the wrong songs sung poorly. Midler sounds so tense and intimidated by studio problems that her personality is scarcely evident on this album. Ultimately, Songs for the New Depression is a failure because it comes to life only in its trivial endeavors, which is exactly what wasn't supposed to happen.

The cover portrays Midler rejecting her "Divine Miss M" persona in order to move in a new direction. But the album itself suggests confusion; Midler inexplicably submits to arrangements and production values that strut their own cleverness rather than showcase her talents. Producer Moogy Klingman undermines Midler's gift for dramatic monologue either by echoing or multitracking her vocals in arrangements as stiff as they are misconceived. An abridged version of Phoebe Snow's "I Don't Want the Night to End," set as an R&B ballad of sorts, drowns Midler's individuality in echoes, while the arrangement turns an excellent song into bathetic schlock. Tom Waits's "Shiver Me Timbers," a high point in Midler's live act, sinks under the weight of an arrangement so literal-minded that it includes the sound of mewing sea gulls. The Fifties hit "Tragedy," with expansive choral backup and chimes, is neither spoof nor tear-jerker.

Along with the totally misguided attempt at reggae ("No Jestering"), the album's excruciating nadir is a disco version of "Strangers in the Night" (produced by Arif Mardin in a style similar to the Bee Gees' "Fanny"), in which Midler shrieks about a half-tone flat from beginning to end. In more relaxed settings, Midler's severe pitch problems can be overlooked-indeed, they can serve her dramatic style, as in "Hello in There." But it seems the height of stubborn self-destructiveness for Midler to ape Gloria Gaynor, fall short so badly and then allow the result to stand.

Midler sounds relaxed only in the two cuts she coproduced with Joel Dorn, whose previous work with her has been her best. A revival of the Patti Page hit "Old Cape Cod" is comfortably nostalgic. On "Marahuana," an obscure Thirties film tune, Midler camps it up a la Carmen Miranda to re-create the period piece in her own image. Though a very trivial song, it's at least fun.

On Midler's duet with Dylan on a lyrically revised "Buckets of Rain," Dylan's backup vocal is unaccountably mixed much higher than the lead; the song sounds like a Dylan self-parody. Midler's own attempts at writing-a phone-call song to "Mr. Rockefeller" and her humorous interpretation of the "Welcome to My Nightmare" slogan in "Samedi et Vendredi" (sung entirely in French)-will at least appeal to Midler's claque. Both pieces, however, are closer to show-biz bits than to fully realized songs, and Klingman's production again fails to enhance their humor.

Trivia, nostalgia and camp may validate and sustain the worth of a stage career, but they sure as hell can't do it for a singing career that asks to be taken seriously.

Consumer Guide, Robert Christgau

It's going too far to claim that she's taken on a corporate personality--a very unusual individual does definitely peek out through the curtain of groupthink that hides these songs from the singer and from us. But that individual seems to have taken on so many advisers because she's afraid of herself, and such fear is not attractive in an artist of Bette Midler's power. No matter what your voice teachers tell you, wackiness is not something to modulate. C+


Publication Unknown, Author Uknown (1976)

It's difficult to pinpoint-exactly what is wrong with this album. There is nothing artistically offensive about it. Midler is in good voice her backup musicians are strong and well chosen and the mix of solid contemporary material and older works is not objectionable.

PERHAPS the most obvious lack is a sense of excitement. Expecting to find live performance energy on a record is-a major mistake for any listener but one would hope to find more drive than there is on "Songs." It may well be that like Barbra Streisand and others, Midler draws her persuasive abilities from an audience and not necessarily from the songs. The audience and the applause are near and dear to her heart. not the lyrics of individual works.

There also seems to be a certain lack of focus to the album. Three producers - with three different styles - worked on "Songs" with two cuts each from Arif Mardin and Joel Dorn and the rest by Moogy Klingman, a member of Todd Rundgren's Utopia. As a result, the album as a whole lacks unity of perception.

Individually, however, most of the cuts work rather well. A disco version of "Strangers in the Night," jarring at first, proves surprisingly strong after repeated listening. Midier does well by Phoebe Snow's "I Don't Want the Night to End," Klinngman's "Let Me Just Follow Behind." and especially, Tom Waits, "Shiver Me Timbers." Her version of Bob Dylan's "Buckets of Rain" sung with Dylan is a triumph.

That old chestnut "Tragedy" simply drags along, however, "Old Cape Cod," is done just as the Andrews Sisters did it, which makes it a bit too similar to "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." Midler's own "Rocky" and "Marahuana" should prove to be fine stage pieces. but neither is particularly striking on record.

Midler's future is unlikely to be decided by "Songs For the New Depression." She is too great a stage performer and vocalist for her to ever have to return to the New York cabaret scene. Unfortunately, "Songs" is not as strong or as indicative of her talents as it might , have been.


Entertainment Weekly, Jess Cagle

Sounds like Bette stayed out too late at Studio 54. A disco version of ''Strangers in the Night''? Yes, it was the '70s, but that's no excuse. D