The Mirror Has Two Faces
Original Soundtrack (Columbia 67887)
Although film critics have carped that "The Mirror Has Two Faces" focuses too much on Barbra Streisand, music fans may have the opposite complaint about the album. Of the 24 tracks on the soundtrack to the movie, Streisand is audible on only three -- and on one of them ("You Picked Me!"), all we hear is a single line of dialogue and a couple of giggles. All there is in terms of actual songs are "All My Life," a nicely constructed but not terribly memorable ballad that gives Streisand an opportunity to show off her vocal coloring, and "I Finally Found Someone," a stagily romantic duet with Bryan Adams that's full of purring sweet talk but doesn't really throw any sparks. Richard Marx offers a compelling throwback to '80s-style guitar pop with "The Power Inside Me," David Sanborn turns in a tepid rendering of "Try a Little Tenderness," and Luciano Pavarotti is hauled in for a snippet of "Nessun Dorma" (from Puccini's "Turandot"). Otherwise, the album belongs to Marvin Hamlisch, whose lushly orchestrated instrumental numbers convey a fair amount of mood but rather less in the way of melody. Imagine "When Sally Met Harry..." with fewer hooks, and you'll have a good idea of what a great soundtrack this isn't. Summer of '78 (Arista 18809)
For some folks, the '70s were a great time for rock and roll, when Rod Stewart, Bruce Springsteen and Led Zeppelin ruled the roost; for others, the decade was a defining moment for funk, when Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire and Parliament/Funkadelic were each in their prime. But for Barry Manilow, the '70s were the great age of dreamily sentimental love ballads. Big surprise, right? But his "Summer of '78," in which he collects some of his "favorite songs" from the decade, is nowhere near as treacly as his taste might suggest. True, he does dredge up some of the decade's drippier tunes, Dan Hill's "Sometimes When We Touch" and the Leo Sayer hit "When I Need You" included. But he also pulls unexpected sparkle from some semi-forgotten gems, bringing a wistful beauty to "Never My Love" (which was actually a '60s hit, but never mind), and filling the Little River Band's "Reminiscing" with a jaunty, swing-based charm. On the whole, though, Manilow's view of the decade is a tad too soft-focus, rendering Michael Johnson's "Bluer Than Blue" and the Hollies' "The Air That I Breathe" so gently that they almost verge on background music.
Pre-Millennium Tension (Island 314 524 302)
Because trip-hop is being touted as rock and roll's "next big thing," the obvious expectation is that the genre's big names are all going to become big sellers. That may happen, but it would be hard to imagine an album like Tricky's "Pre-Millennium Tension" leading the way. As striking as his music often is, there's a darkness and density to Tricky's music that runs contrary to most commercial expectations. That's not to say it isn't worth hearing, as the way Tricky plays with textures is particularly impressive. "Bad Dream," for instance, sprinkles snaky horn arabesques over clunking percussion and a hypnotic, slow-churning bass drone, while "Sex Drive" layers twitchily mechanical drum machine, relentless boogie-woogie bass and a fragmented harmonica line into a haunting distortion of the blues. Yet as amazing as it is to hear these tracks, the pleasures offered by the album tend to be more cerebral than visceral -- a great thing for careful listeners (and theory-obsessed critics), but hardly the sort of thing that will win over everyday pop fans.
Blessed Quietness (Atlantic 82948)
Because it's being released just in time for the Christmas rush, it's easy to assume that the carols included on Cyrus Chestnut's "Blessed Quietness" mean that it's meant as a holiday offering. But it's less Christmas music than it is Christian music -- that is, a collection of carols and spirituals that evokes not one season but the whole range of sanctified music. So not only do we get everything from "We Three Kings" to "Amazing Grace" to "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," but the songs are presented in an equally broad range of styles. "Over My Head," for instance, is given a treatment that evokes both the delicate textures of Ravel and the ecstatic polyphony of glossolalia, while "Jesus Loves Me" is rendered with a jovial stride piano that would have done Fats Waller proud. Some of the interpretations are so wonderfully idiosyncratic that mere description -- saying, for instance, that his take on "The First Noel" draws on samba-derived rhythms and lush, Bill Evans-ish harmonies -- barely does them justice. Either take it on faith that "Blessed Quietness" is worth hearing, or pick up a copy and prepare to be converted.
Pub Date: 12/12/96