Music And Concerts




Thighs and Whispers (1979)

Billboard peak: # 65

Tracks: "Big Noise From Winnetka" - "Millworker" - "Cradle Days" - "My Knight In Black Letter" - "Hang On In There Baby" - "Hurricane" - "Rain" - "Married Men"

Listen To Audio Samples

Rolling Stone Magazine (RS 305), Stephen Holden

This last-ditch effort to present Bette Midler as a mainstream pop-disco singer succeeds only too well. Though Midler sings on pitch for once, she squelches her personality for the sake of musical propriety, and with her raucous chutzpah muted, becomes a very mundane vocalist given to affecting a cramped, throaty croon. "Big Noise from Winnetka," a swing-era camp chestnut, is Thighs and Whispers' highlight, thanks less to the Divine Miss M. than to Arif Mardin's classy disco-swing production.

"Millworker," though decently sung, misses the dramatic subtlety of James Taylor's version, and it can't hold a candle to Midler's riskier dramatic monologue of John Prine's "Hello in There" on her first album. With the exception of "Married Men," an intelligent pop-disco tune that boasts the artist's chestiest singing, the rest of the material is weak or inappropriate.

Thighs and Whispers is the most convincing proof yet that Bette Midler is a stage personality in the tradition of Ethel Merman and Liza Minnelli, entertainers whose talents can't be captured in a recording studio either.

Consumer Guide, Robert Christgau

The songs are pretty good, and when you listen up they get better, their apparent flatness undercut by little touches of drama, comedy, or musicianship. But the songs aren't that good. And they don't get that much better. C+

Peter Reilly, Stereo Review, January 1980

Probably the only thing hotter than Bette Midler at the moment--and surely for quite a while in the foreseeable future--is that English muffin one of the crew was preparing the night the alarm bell rang at Three Mile Island. Certainly she sports an ineffable new aura as an Authentic Movie Superstar in her bravura dramatic performance as the gross, childishly sweet, incredibly screwed-up heroine of her just-released movie The Rose. And "Thighs and Whispers," her wonderful new Atlantic album, just as certainly shows that she hasn't forgotten any of her old tricks. Speaking as one of her old tricks, which is to say one of her admirers, I'm happy to report that she's up to, and down to, more of the same ribald, hilarious, poignant kinds of carrying-on that made her a most unlikely cabaret star in the first place.

Even though the "bigger-than- Streisand, bigger-than-Streisand" buzz has now begun to sound like a roar, and even though her work in The Rose has revealed a volcanic dramatic actress fully able to keep an audience spellbound without singing a note, it's nice to know that she hasn't turned her back on all of us who treasured her back then as the most inventive, intelligent lampooniste of her generation. Far from having Gone Grand, Miss M. is gaudier than ever. Take, for instance, the album cover. You haven't seen such a tumble of golden hair, expanse of tawny skin, smolder of amber eyes, and slather of hot-pink lip-gloss since Marilyn Monroe sashayed out to have her... um . . . picture took.

As for the repertoire--well, how does a little something like My Knight in Black Leather cuff you? It is one of those dizzy Midler spoofs of uptown lifestyles in which the dippy, woebegone heroine confesses that Oh, God, she just gets so turned on by this dude with the masterful touch. Porn? No. Just good, dirty, non-serious fun. Then there's Hurricane, a genuine plastic lei if ever there was one; who else, in this year of 1980, could possibly get away with such lines as "You're a hurricane/You blow me awayayay . . ." strung out against a chorus huffing and puffing asthmatically in the background? And Married Men, in which Miss M., sounding like the activities director in a coed bath house, wags an admonitory finger at her listeners as she tells them ("Now, girls!") how two-faced married men can be, the chorus undulating through several repetitions of "They do it/They do it/They do it" the while.

Not that she doesn't do some very fine straight-out singing here too, particularly in the disco-slanted Hang On In There Baby and the soul-brushed Cradle Days. The Midler voice is like the Midler figure--pint-size--and it is not nearly as vividly colored as she herself is. But it is enormously expressive and musical. Moreover, she is a natural, instinctive editor, and any Midler reading of a lyric can be depended on to emphasize just the word or the phrase that nails the meaning down absolutely.

It all comes gloriously together here on the Big Noise from Winnetka (would I kid you?) track. In seven minutes Midler dismantles that old pop classic before your ears, puts it back together again in an arrangement by Arif Mardin, building a Performance that will have you chuckling with pleasure by the time it finally careens to a stop. It is a superb job and alone worth the price of the album.

I came late to an appreciation of the particular kind of magic Bette Midler can lend to a song, put off at first by her Kween of Kamp image and what I thought was a contrived, patronizing kind of outrageousness. Now that I know her work better I realize that the outrageousness is quite real, that it has its origin in and is designed to protect a vulnerability that is just as real. And it is that vulnerability, I think, that ac- counts for her unique appeal, because it is never consciously displayed, never capitalized on (as it surely was with, say, Judy Garland), but only suggested. It lends a touching truth to almost everything she sings, no matter how raunchy, how gamey, how impertinent.

Even if she had never gotten beyond the kind of material she does here (and she does it close to perfection) on "Thighs and Whispers," Bette Midler would deserve to be an important star. As it stands now, with The Rose securely tucked under her belt, she looks like serious competition for the reigning actress-singer of our era, a lady whose stainless-steel ways are beginning to pall. Was it Mary McCarthy who compared life to a roller towel, with all our successors wound up inside, just a short pull away?

CMJ New Music Report

It would seem that Midler should be able to make the transition to disco singing (which occupies most of this LP) without difficulty, but when she tries to extend herself too far beyond her original cabaret style, she ends up sounding like anyone else, and not a particularly outstanding anyone else at that. The ballads are more suited to her voice, but then, only when she doesn't try to reach into Streisand territory. Producer Arif Mardin should've known better than to try to make Midler sound like something she's not.

Entertainment Weekly, Jess Cagle

''Married Men''-with Luther Vandross on background vocals-became a Top 40 hit, but her rendition of James Taylor's ''Millworker'' may be Midler's finest moment. A widowed mom sits at her factory sewing machine ''waiting for a daydream to take me through the morning.'' Her subtle inflections convey the quiet courage that only comes from defeat. A