Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Barry Manilow

  • Manilow II [Bell, 1974] C
  • Tryin' to Get the Feeling [Arista, 1975] C-
  • Live [Arista, 1977] C-
  • Singin' With the Big Bands [Arista, 1994] C

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Manilow II [Bell, 1974]
Manilow arouses all the distrust that a man who achieved affluence making advertising music deserves: even if he is as sentimental sometimes, as his hit would indicate, he has no right to be. Nevertheless, a couple of songs written with someone named Enoch Anderson, who must deserve better, stick with me. The jingle strikes again? C

Tryin' to Get the Feeling [Arista, 1975]
Inspirational Verse: "I've been alive forever/And I wrote the very first song/I put the words and melodies together/I AM MUSIC/And I write the songs." You've heard that one, eh? It figures. But do you know who wrote the song? Bruce Johnston. C-

Live [Arista, 1977]
So rock and rollers can't stand him and what else is new? Well, two aperçus. One, he is beyond the pale of New York chauvinism. And two, all the best commercials in his notorious "Very Strange Medley" were written by other composers, just like his hits. C-

Singin' With the Big Bands [Arista, 1994]
Tempting though it would be to tweak reformed Halo of Flies fans for going gaga over Tony Bennett, the wily codger's as prudent as ever about deploying his lovingly preserved pipes. Trevor Horn's Tom Jones joke travesties an artist who's always clocked dollars making fun of himself. But this guy's got a nerve. It's less ghoulish than some "Unforgettable"-style computer nightmare in which Barry magically replaces Martha Tilton or Tex Beneke on classic swing records, but it's also worse--swing as '50s television music, stupefying chestnuts (three each from Sinatra and the Andrews Sisters, what taste), backed by recreated or reconceived live big band arrangements (sometimes from the original bands, whatever that can mean after 50 years, more often from "the Big Band Orchestra"). Fronted, of course, by Manilow's uncompromisingly inoffensive voice--a voice that never hints at sex or history or even chops. Incomprehensible Press Quote: "'I've found a funkiness and intelligence in the music that will last forever. Hopefully, everyone can feel the honesty and grit on the album that will remind us of what a hip era this was.'" C