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Barbra Streisand: Guilty Pleasures

Barbra Streisand: Guilty Pleasures

Release Date:2005

By John Darnielle | Posted 12/14/2005

Barbra Streisand is one of the greatest performers of all time, and her voice is as singular an instrument as there’s ever been in pop music. So it’s a little troubling to hear her talents wasted on a song like “Come Tomorrow,” which someone inexplicably chose to open her first album of new material in years. Boasting bass lines that sound dialed up straight from a bank of synth presets, “Come Tomorrow” makes all the wrong promises about what’s to follow.

What good is a Streisand album if it’s not somehow an event? Fortunately for those of us who enjoy Streisand’s almost surgically exact feel for a pop lyric, things do get better. Lots better, actually. “Above the Law” is ad-con tropicalia, scrubbed clean. If that’s not your thing you’ll hate it, but it’s too long between Sade albums as it is, so we’ll take it. “Night of My Life” is a terrific dance track drenched in the elusive verge-of-tears mood that might as well come with Streisand’s copyright mark. It’s hopeful and sad and desperate and resigned and as dramatic as you like. If someone does not do a club mix of it soon there is no God.

Best of all is “All the Children,” whose vaguely Middle Eastern rhythm and instrumentation evokes a mood without trying too hard. And this is why you hire Barry Gibb to produce your album: At his best, he makes things sound effortless, easy, natural. “All the Children” finds Gibb recalling his high-water marks without leaning too heavily on any of them; for the chorus, he conjures a hook from thin air just like he used to, making it spring suddenly up from the verse like blood from a struck vein.

It’s striking; you can’t shake it. It’s the sort of song for which the “repeat” button was designed. It’s utterly delicious pop music, which is what a talent like Streisand’s both deserves and needs. When the material is weak, Guilty Pleasures sags, and is sad in the wrong way. From the fourth song forward, though, it’s almost all worthwhile, and the thrills it offers aren’t really available elsewhere.

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