- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005

Barbra Streisand

Guilty Pleasures

Columbia Records

Babs and Barry, together again at last: That’s the hook of “Guilty Pleasures,” a reunion companion to 1980’s smash album “Guilty,” which saw Barbra Streisand under the tutelage of singer-songwriter Barry Gibb and the Bee Gees’ production personnel, the team that ruled as lords of disco.

We’re a long way from the disco era, as is this new set, which has all the bells and whistles of the modern recording studio and is perfectly tailored to lite-rock stations everywhere. Just wait: You’ll soon be hearing Miss Streisand on the portable radio that the person in the cubicle next to you brings to work every day for soothing background noise.

Despite whether anyone actually listens attentively to “Pleasures,” it will be obvious that Miss Streisand’s voice is as strong and expressive as ever. Take it from someone whose hippocampus will forever be imprinted with the jingle-jangle of Miss Streisand’s 1967 Christmas album, which spun on vinyl in the childhood home of this reviewer every December without fail. I’d notice if there were a crack in her 63-year-old armor.

The same hardiness can’t be attributed to Mr. Gibb’s songs, however. The head Bee Gee brother composed new material with sons Ashley and Stephen (in addition to co-producing the album) but had to cherry-pick old songs such as “(Our Love) Don’t Throw It All Away,” which was written for and recorded by the late Andy Gibb, and “Letting Go,” a decades-old tune from a movie soundtrack.

The gentle Latin shuffles “Hideaway” and “Above the Law” sound strained next to the epic American pop of “Without Your Love” and “Golden Dawn.” In contrast, Miss Streisand and Mr. Gibb wear the classic soul/R&B; arrangements of “Come Tomorrow” and “It’s up to You” more lightly.

A lowlight is the vaguely topical “All the Children” (“Stand up/Freedom is the message in your song”), with its plastic Middle Eastern rock sheen. “Stranger in a Strange Land,” also obliquely about current events, is a straightforward adult-contemporary ballad and, not surprisingly, the much better song.

Of the 11 tracks here, only “Night of My Life” is wince-inducing. With electro-pop percussion, warbled vocal effects and trippy lyrics such as “Closer/sight and the sound/roller coaster/that merry-go-round,” it’s hard to imagine why Mr. Gibb thought the song appropriate for a traditionalist such as Miss Streisand.

It’s the one tune on a pleasant album that will oblige you to ask your cubicle neighbor to turn down her radio, please.

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