Reviews of the latest albums by Babs, Bocelli, Robyn and more
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
Barbra Streisand, Walls
Barbra Streisand’s reputation as a “Hollywood liberal” has often been in contrast to her music. Her films get political, her speeches, her concert banter, but the album? Well, she’s best known for Broadway showtunes, American standards and her flirtation with disco. But for Walls, La Streisand, at age 76, has finally allowed her art and activism to intersect.
The style will be familiar to her fans: That honeyed contralto, soothing yet somehow defiant. The content, though, is something new. She goes for the throat… albeit in that adult contemporary way. She begins by keying us in to her point of view with “What’s On My Mind,” a proper lead-off to the album on which Babs is in fine voice, but it only takes until the second song, boldly titled “Don’t Lie to Me,” for her to come out swinging directly against the current president. Everyone answers to someone she refrains, but her message is less of rage than a plea for humanity. The title track is a sombre and not-too-subtle reference to the “build the wall” movement, and feels a little preachy, as does the saccharine arrangement of “Imagine/What a Wonderful World,” but Streisand is in fine voice throughout. And having her put her anger where her mouth is really works for me right now. Three stars.
Andrea Bocelli, Si
Ever since he burst onto the musical scene in the 1990s, Andrea Bocelli has practically been a genre unto himself. Italian, and skilled at opera, his voice has also been well-suited to pop songs and standards, something more classical grand tenors like Pavarotti and Domingo struggle with. (The style is sometimes derisively referred to as “popera” by less commercially viable artists.) But Bocelli need not concern himself with the hater, as long as he has such a voice.
That voice! Always as rich as brandywine, elegant yet tremulous, ethereal yet humane.
But vocal cords are not fine wines; they age, and while they can become mellower at times, they can also lose their force, their control.
Now 60, Bocelli is not exactly past his prime, but on Si, his 16th studio album — and first of original material since 2004 — you can detect cracks in the facade … minor ones, but cracks nonetheless.
Its most apparent on the third track, “Un’anima,” in which he strains to stay in his range; while he hits the notes, his voice becomes more reedy and weak. But ironically, that softness serves him well on several other tracks, especially the duets. “If Only” with Dua Lipa brings out the best in both their instruments; he pairs with his son Matteo on “Fall On Me,” and the pop sensibility makes Bocelli sound as if he would be at home on a country music radio station. The teaming with Josh Groban, the other popera megastar, is an eargasm for both their fans. Three-and-a-half stars.
Robyn exists, alongside Kylie Minogue, as a special tier of gay diva: a foreigner (she’s Swedish; Minogue is Australian), tremendously successful overseas, who occasionally blesses the States with one of her infectious dance hits. And the first track off of Honey — her first full length album in more than a decade — proves the rule: “Missing U” has all the catchy beats that her fans have come to appreciate from her, and one long overdue. As the album progresses though, it becomes increasingly less dance-pop and more introspective electro-synth, as if she was throwing us a bone before asking us to come on her new journey, starting with the third track, “Because It’s in the Music,” goes full-on dreamwave by the fourth, “Baby Forgive Me.” That song elides seamless on the next cut, “Send to Robyn Immediately,” which feels more like a self-contained remix before transitioning into an R&B-infused riff, which harkens to Robyn’s soulful roots. Two-and-a-half stars
Various artists, The Greatest Showman Reimagined
Last year’s surprise Christmastime box office hit, The Greatest Showman, owed its success in large part to Pasek-and-Paul’s amazing song score, which was filled with great tunes… none better than the anthem for gay inclusiveness “This Is Me.” That song, searingly delivered by Keala Settle, gets covered on the new Reimagined album by Settle, plus Kesha and Missy Elliott…. then 14 more pop stars (among them North Texans Kelly Clarkson and Pentatonix, as well as queer icons Panic! At the Disco, Pink and Sara Bareilles) contribute their talents to interpreting the songs.
You might wonder, as I initially did: Why produce a dozen covers of an album that was already pretty terrific as it was? Because lightning can strike twice. With such an amazing score, why not spread the gospel further? Missy Elliott’s rap on “This Is Me,” for instance, does not so much transform as augment a great song. And from Brendon Urie’s gladiator-rock opening on “The Greatest Show” to Pink’s soaring vocals on “A Million Dreams,” to the hip-hop takes from Years & Years/Jess Glynne and Max/Ty Dolla $ign all the way until the three bonus tracks that button this album, it’s a joyous reminder of a feel-good movie. Four stars.