Exactly 25 years ago, Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb released the finest pop album of Streisand's career, the 1980 multi-platinum Guilty. Sony/Columbia Records re-released the landmark album on August 30th as a Dual Disc. The Dual Disc was complete with videos, a new interview with Barbra and Barry, and a photo gallery. In other words--all the bells and whistles. It worked. The 25 year-old album re-entered the Billboard Pop Catalogue Chart with the impressive "Hot Shot Debut" and the Internet Sales Chart at numbers 13 and 19, respectively. They used the milestone recording as a marketing tool to remind listeners of the history that was made all those years ago. Did they need it? No, but it sure helped with awareness of the brand new collaboration, Guilty Pleasures that was released on September 20th.
Can lightning strike twice? My answer is a resounding YES! Guilty Pleasures is the most diverse album in Streisand's vast discography. The album's content and placement of the eleven tracks is reminiscent of its predecessor, but a couple of tracks take some bolder steps than any material she has recorded in her previous 60 albums.
Of the eleven tracks, nine were written with Streisand in mind -- and it shows. Just like Guilty, the songs were tailor-made for Streisand's vocals as they slide `n glide effortlessly throughout the entire album. One critic seemed to take the words right out of my mouth when he said, "Streisand sounds as if she just stepped out of the original Guilty sessions -- here is a singer still in her prime and ready to remind the whole world about it." For those who ever thought Streisand was suffering from vocal decline, think again.
As for collaborating with Gibb again after 25 years, Barbra comments, "Reuniting with Barry was wonderful. I love his voice and the passion comes through his music."
The album kicks off with a playful 50's style doo-wop duet "Come Tomorrow," and it's a complete pleasure to hear Barbra and Barry playing off of each other and blending their unique vocals. It's pure harmony.
The album's first single "Stranger In A Strange Land" is a wonderful salute to the troops, past and present. The Right Wing has already mocked Barbra by suggesting this is an anti-war song, when in reality it's just the opposite. But then again, what do you expect from the Bill O'Reillys of the world? It's a love letter to the men and women in uniform, and it firmly states that although we may not agree with the war, we acknowledge their courage and firmly stand by them. The images of the accompanying video that's on the flip side of the Dual Disc literally gave me chills while Streisand sang her heart out.
Two very strong highlights are also the sexiest and most sultry songs, "Hideaway" and "Golden Dawn." These two tracks carry a Bossa-Nova flavor and Barbra's vocals are so exceptional, it sounds as if she recorded these two songs back in the late 60's. The mood is true romance -- Streisand style. The saxophone solo by veteran musician Tom Scott adds soulful romance to the extraordinary arrangement of "Hideaway." No other female singer can touch this type of material without touching your heart this deeply. Even her detractors sing her praises when she represents this soft and smooth style that makes her the unique and consummate artist that she is. These two tracks make you hopeful that she'll record an entire album of Bossa-Nova style music one day. They are stunning.
Not enough diversity yet? I haven't even mentioned Barbra's merriment with her ode to disco. She delves back into the dance genre with "Night Of My Life," with a chorus that's reminiscent of Barry's best dance songs, ala "You Should Be Dancing" and "Tragedy." You'd swear Barbra just tripped the light fantastic on the dancefloor. Listening to Streisand's vocals soaring "I send out a message to you/no early warning/I'm under the radar" is like she just stepped out of the recording booth with Donna Summer. For the dance die-hards, let it be known that the master, Junior Vasquez, along with L.E.X. and John Luongo, has flawlessly remixed this song on four different versions. Junior's Roxy Anthem runs just under eight minutes, John Luongo's 12" Mix is just over nine minutes and the incredible L.E.X. Club Mix runs close to nine minutes. For the radio-friendly market, the single, John Luongo's 7" Mix at 3:48 minutes, will be released on September 27th. A CD single of the mixes will be available at retail shortly following the release of the DJ-only vinyl.
After the pleasant assault on dance fever, Barbra and Barry take us through one of the most delightful duets, titled "Above The Law." Talk about unification. Their voices compliment each other so well, one wonders why they haven't worked more often together. Barbra comments "On the song `Above The Law,' I liked the gentle wink towards the title `Guilty'... sort of like after all these years...we've got nothing to be guilty of... we're above the law! For a minute, we thought that might be a good name for the album. When Barry played me the rough demo, the song wasn't quite finished. As I was listening to it, I heard a counter melody in my mind and sang it to Barry. The next day, he'd incorporated it into the song...making it a duet. So that was very gratifying."
Another interesting song is "It's Up To You." It almost sounds as if it could've been a sterling but simple track that Linda Ronstadt would've recorded back in the 70's. It's a pop song with an ever-so-slight country edge. The horns at the end are a bit reminiscent of an R&B classic. The elements are varied, yet Gibb's lyrics and arrangements make perfect sense.
Just when you thought it was all pop magic, in walks the song "Without Your Love," which could have easily been lifted from a Broadway show. And you know when it comes to Broadway, Barbra absolutely shines, just as this tender love song does.
Perhaps the most adventurous song is the East-Indian influenced "All The Children." It has shades of a political message, and Barry's arrangement and chorus are very evocative of an up-tempo Pink Floyd composition. In Barbra's 43-year recording career, she has never performed a song of this distinction. If you're a fan of Streisand's recording of "Life Story" from the Guilty album, "All The Children" takes you a step further into the mysterious yet dramatic and melodious Gibb sound that makes him one of the most unique artists in pop music.
Streisand heads into familiar territory with a remake of the 1978 Andy Gibb classic "(Our Love) Don't Throw It All Away," and yet puts her indelible stamp on it. Barry's gentle background vocals highlight Barbra's gorgeous interpretation. It appears that Barry wanted very much to pay loving tribute to his youngest brother, who passed away far too young.
Streisand has made the final track "Letting Go" perhaps the most personal song, and one of the most heart-wrenching vocals on the album. It's just Barbra, a piano and minimal orchestration. If you hadn't realized the power and resonance of her vocals, this is the perfect example of what sets her apart from every other female vocalist. No studio trickery, no synthesizers and heavy bass, just a voice and a message that will send any person with half-a-heart reeling.
Each day, with each listen, I found myself responding to a different song and declaring it my favorite. After two solid weeks of not removing this CD from my player, I have decided that there isn't one favorite track. The diversity is smashing and every single track is special and unique in its own way.
It's no secret that I'm an unabashed Streisand fan, but I'm also fair-minded. I haven't been this much in love with a complete Streisand recording in over twenty years. It's truly the most consistent and best pop album of hers since the last time she teamed up with Gibb. History is certainly repeating itself. This will be one of the best-selling albums of Streisand`s career. But you don't have to take my word on it, just wait and hear it for yourself.