The Divine Miss M
Released: November 1972
Chart Peak: 9
Weeks Charted: 76
Certified Gold: 4/25/73
Bette Midler is a biggie on the Old Camp Trail of the New York social scene. She dresses and makes up to look like a surreal Andrews Sister in a 1940's low-budget musical. In the beginning that was pretty much her act: parodies of songs and styles of that era. Now, with this recording, she is taking herself much more seriously. Excessively so -- I haven't heard such an overproduced, overdramatized, oversung album since Yma Sumac sent out her last bird calls. The bad news is that Miss Midler (who, regardless of the Warhol-style getups and the super-camp manner, is, I think, very serious about her profession) remains more an accurate parodist than an original entertainer. "Do You Want to Dance?" sounds enough like Peggy Lee for that lady to sue, and while "Daytime Hustler" undoubtedly projects excitement, it borrows almost everything from early Streisand. "Superstar" is a chunk of Lee-Franklin territory that runs over five minutes, which is two-and-a-half minutes too long. Midler comes closest to hitting her own stride on "Am I Blue," again much too long -- and I had to fight my own memories of Ethel Waters' classic recording of it -- but still a strong and sensitive performance. However, by far my favorite track is the only one of her straight-on parodies, the Andrews Sisters' unlamented hit "The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." It is very funny and very expert.
Nevertheless, the album as a whole is an example of precisely what camp is supposed to deflate and satirize: commercial and theatrical pretentiousness. But maybe things have come full-circle again.
Backed by a heavy label promotion campaign, the performer of TV and clubs turns vocal here for her disc debut with a de-emphasis on her unique humor. Driving Barry Manilow arrangements lend strong support to her rocking revival of "Leader of the Pack" or her sensitive treatments of "Superstar" and John Prine's moving "Hello in There."
- Billboard, 1973.
Midler thinks "cabaret" encompasses every emotion and aspiration ever transfixed by pop music. People who've seen her like this record more than people who haven't, which isn't good. But as someone who's been entranced by her show many times I'm grateful for a production that suggests its nutty quality without distracting from her voice, a rich instrument of surprising precision, simultaneously delicate and vulgar. I'd ease up on the '60s nostalgia by replacing "Chapel of Love" with "Empty Bed Blues," but anybody who can expose "Leader of the Pack"'s exploration of the conflict between love and authority has it right. A-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Midler's early camp style is captured in this debut album, which features her torchy version of "Do You Want to Dance?," the bubbly remake of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," and Buzzy Linhart's "Friends," all Top 40 hits. * * * *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
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