Streisand's Guilty Pleasures is a Pleasure
The Guilty dream team returns! Of course, this refers to Barbra Streisand and her amazingly multi-talented collaborator Barry Gibb who have just created the refreshing, utterly entertaining Guilty Pleasures. In Streisand's 61-album catalogue, this new work of pop music is only matched in excellence by Guilty 25 years ago. Indeed, time has been kind to the creative pairing, Streisand enhancing her virtually ageless vocal prowess through the years, while Gibb has become a recording studio genius and prolific songwriter/producer/arranger for other artists including his brothers Gibb. In fact, he enlisted his sons Ashley and Stephen to join him in writing again for Barbra, inspiring marvelous and diverse performances, from the delightful mid-tempo radio friendly "Above The Law" to the lovely ballad "Letting Go."
"Above The Law" grabs one's attention instantly, as Streisand playfully croons "This is me talking to you..." Keep talking, keep talking, Barbra. With Barry Gibb's solo vocals at his best on this track, the pair infuses the catchy melody with endearing vocal interplay (and a counter-melody Barbra created), best appreciated in the accompanying video. Similarly, they enjoy each other's company on the duet "Come Tomorrow," the doo wop style tune with cool horns. Continuing in this mid-tempo romantic style, Barbra admirably covers Andy Gibb's 1978 smash hit "(Our Love) Don't Throw It All Away," which begins with a gentle electric piano tribute to "What Kind Of Fool" (from Guilty) and soon brightens with the familiar chorus and Barry's signature background vocals. Concluding with Barbra's vocal vamping, this song was worth redoing. Similarly mid-tempo is the slightly disappointing "It's Up To You," the shortest and least interesting song on the album.
Much more worthy are "Hideaway" and "Golden Dawn," both subtly displaying bossa nova influence and a pervasive sense of romance and passion. Barbra flies and soars on "Hideaway," looking (see the video) and sounding pleased with her vocal performance ("I'm falling into you") blended with an indelible melody from start to finish. In an exciting climax, she exclaims, "We are one with the night," amidst overlapping vocals akin to lovers entwined. "Golden Dawn" adds bongos, going more overtly bossa nova (a musical genre about which Barbra recently claimed an affinity) while boasting warm strings within an inspired poetic structure.
If more uptempo music is your preference, this album features the joyous "Night Of My Life," Barbra Streisand's first new dance recording since 1984's "Emotion." Like its predecessor and the danceable "Promises" (from Guilty), this song is already hitting clubs with a 12-inch vinyl single (hopefully a matching CD too). Its swirling mélange of pulsating rhythms and exciting belting vocals offers good ear candy.
In a different musical style comes the album's first single "Stranger In A Strange Land," which finds Barbra voicing an earnest, urgent missive to homesick troops overseas, trying to elevate all of our spirits. Her uncanny vocals are like a mighty call to action, with an unmistakable message that might even placate her conservative critics.
Somewhat more enigmatic, yet suggesting a sociopolitical theme, "All The Children" sports mystical atmospheres and some big Barbra belting with a distinctly Indian flavor. "Freedom is the message in your song" is a lyric supporting the pro-child theme, as the final two minutes ascends with Bollywood musical exhilaration exemplified by overlapping Barbra & Barry vocals, synthesizers, and electric guitar rave-ups and solos. Intense.
In the next breath, Streisand returns to familiar musical territory on the absolutely exquisite "Letting Go" and the dramatic "Without Your Love." The latter song resembles a mini three-act play, reminiscent of the best moving theatrical ballads in Barbra's back catalogue. Gibb's tempo changes are inventive, and the song's guitar, piano, and vivid orchestration champion the strong lyrics. "Letting Go" goes even further but with a unique structure and sparse instrumentation - just piano and quiet strings - supporting Streisand's ever-so-delicate and expressive, heart-wrenching singing. When she phrases, "It's so hard letting go," you experience her penetrating emotion and depth, and this is the case with countless earlier Streisand performances, for she will always epitomize the consummate actress who sings. In the accompanying DVD interview, she happily admits that it's a song she was waiting to record for 20 years. Well worth the wait for Barbra...and especially for us, as is this entire marvelous album.