Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Barbra Streisand

  • The Way We Were [Columbia, 1974] B-
  • Guilty [Columbia, 1980] C+
  • The Broadway Album [Columbia, 1986] C

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Way We Were [Columbia, 1974]
Theoretically, I am encouraged by Barbra's abandonment of Richard Perry and Contemporary Material, and in practice I love the title song, one of those beyootiful ballads that are the gift of AM programming to the reprobate rock and roller. But my big theory has always been that we like contemporary material because it is, well, contemporary, and in practice most of these performances generate a pristine, somewhat chill unreality even as they simulate warmth, maturity, all that stuff. Also, I'm not humming any of them after half a dozen plays. B-

Guilty [Columbia, 1980]
Produced by Gibb-Galuten-Richardson, and Barbra Goes Disco ain't all. Somewhere in their success-addled minds Barry and Robin saw a chance to return to heartthrob ballads like "To Love Somebody" and "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?" But after years of writing fluff--great fluff, occasionally, but fluff--they can't match that standard. Lucky for them Streisand doesn't oversing every time out, even floats some of the uptempo stuff--music of the spheres if you consider her voice a platonic ideal, polyurethane disco if you don't. But most of the time she oversings. And when she dramatizes a soap like "Life Story," the mismatch is ridiculous. C+

The Broadway Album [Columbia, 1986]
I had hopes for this record, honest. I certainly prefer the show tunes of her flowering to the "rock" (and schlock) of her Hollywood phase, and I enjoy discovering musical-comedy gems my normal interests would never steer me to. But unearthing gems is not Barbra's purpose. There are only three lyricists here--Ira Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein II, and the album's real reason for being, Stephen Sondheim, who sums up his aesthetic philosophy by rewriting a song about Seurat so it applies instead to that other great artiste, la Streisand. I've enjoyed all the non-Sondheim songs in less precisely wrought versions and am also familiar with a little something called "Send in the Clowns." I admire the cattiness of "The Ladies Who Lunch." The others I'll live the rest of my life without. C

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