The Way We Were
Columbia PC 32801
Released: February 1974
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 31
Certified Platinum: 11/21/86
Though more than a decade has passed since Streisand began to record, her voice sounds as fresh as it did in the Sixties. More important, she has softened the camp edge of emotional hysteria enough to serve the music she sings, rather than to accentuate an insecure star persona.
The album's hook is, of course, the title song from the film, written by Marvin Hamlisch with Marilyn and Alan Bergman and the first Number One single of Streisand's career. Uncommonly made-to-order, its lyrics apotheosize the current rage for nostalgia. When Streisand belts out a line like, "What's too painful to remember/We quickly choose to forget," its implications resonate in the current social malaise.
In addition to the title song, Side One offers a version of Stevie Wonder's "All in Love Is Fair" almost as interesting as the original. Side Two contains three songs co-authored by the Bergmans with Michel Legrand. Of these the best and most famous, "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?," receives its definitive interpretation. Almost as good is "Pieces of Dreams," whose "little boy lost" theme directs itself toward the loyal gay contingent among her admirers. In a similar vein, Streisand closes her album with a medley of two chestnuts long associated with Judy Garland, "My Buddy" and "How About Me." Mixing tenderness, pathos and grandeur in equal parts, she at once communicates these songs' meanings on three different levels: the pristine, the nostalgic and the camp. No other contemporary singer could get away with it, but Streisand does and her ability to do it more skillfully today than ever should guarantee her continued ascendancy.
- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone, 4/11/74.
Barbra Streisand no longer sings songs; she acts them out. She treats the recording studio as an extension of the stage where every emotion must be exaggerated to be understood. Actually, the studio is closer to working on a movie set and being photographed in closeup, where the slightest gesture goes a long way and too much gesturing makes one appear pretensiously mannered. The Way We Were is pretentiously mannered. Streisand sings the serious songs very seriously; she sings the lighter ones very lightly. She ignores the line-by-line variations in each song's meaning. The fluke success of the single "The Way We Were" has revived her recording career, but beneath the posturing she doesn't sound very interested. If she were, she wouldn't work so hard to convince. I've enjoyed Barbra Streisand's music in the past, but The Way We Were is difficult to get all the way through.
- Jon Landau, Rolling Stone, 6/6/74.
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 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 a dozen plays. B-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
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