Barry Manilow sings (gasp) the '80s!
There are certain things in the '80s world that don't belong together. Madonna and marriage. George Michael and public restrooms. Morrissey and a hot dog-eating contest. And as of today, Barry Manilow and the music from our beloved decade.
Manilow has made a fortune with his recent discs featuring the hits of the '50s, '60s and '70s. But there's something fundamentally evil in his attempt to capture the sounds of the '80s. It's a Rocky vs. Ivan Drago kind of thing. A clash of cultures. Surely Manilow really can't appreciate the decade's signature sounds -- New Wave, Electronica, Rap and American Punk. And certainly the fans of those genres have no use for the soft-FM showmanship of Mr. Manilow.
Still, in his brand-new The Greatest Songs of the Eighties, Manilow smartly avoids the edgier hits of the decade and wraps his elfin-E.T. physique around only those songs he can adapt to his sound. It's a shrewd, businesslike approach: Nobody I know wants to hear Barry wail out Duran Duran's Hungry Like the Wolf, but his devoted Fanilows will be titillated to hear his takes on Kenny Rogers' Islands in the Stream and Chicago's Hard To Say I'm Sorry.
For the record, no way did I actually go and buy this CD in public. Rather, I downloaded the album from iTunes. Some dignity is saved after all. Click here to hear some highlights of the disc. And here we go, song by song...
ISLANDS IN THE STREAM: Hey, I don't want to die ... just yet. Reba McEntire takes over the duet duties from Dolly Parton, but Barry is no Kenny Rogers. He just sounds sleepy, and Reba just drowns him out. When the song swells toward the end, we're tortured with a "Stars on 45" clap-along.
OPEN ARMS: Somewhere, former Journey frontman Steve Perry is grasping his chest in horror. But truth be told, this rendition works. Sure, the orchestration is fully cheesed-out Vegas style, but Barry aims for and hits the notes.
NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP: Thanks to the undefinable appeal of Rick Astley and the Internet phenomenon of "Rick-rolling," his signature hit is quickly becoming a contender for most overplayed song of the decade. But I can say this with a straight face: Manilow's version is just as entertaining. Take that for what it's worth. See? Good song picks make ALL the difference. Can you imagine Barry picking Spandau Ballet's True here instead? (VIDEO)
HAVE I TOLD YOU LATELY: Maybe it's the lack of animal protein in my diet lately, but I'm starting to buy in here. Granted, Van Morrison's 1989 song is no Brown-Eyed Girl or Gloria, so Barry just takes it for a nice, gentle spin around the block.
I JUST CALLED TO SAY I LOVE YOU: Ack! I spoke too soon. This wasn't a good song when Stevie Wonder wrote it back in '84. But backed by what can only be described as the "Austin Powers Orchestra," Manilow drags it to near comic depths.
AGAINST ALL ODDS: "Oh, take a look at me. There's just an empty space." Oh, we hear you, Barry. It's like someone ripped one of our favorite songs right out of our chests. "I wish I could just make you turn around, turn around and see me cry." Yes, I may never smile again.
CARELESS WHISPER: The original 1984 ballad from Wham! rightfully deserves to be ridiculed. And yet, aside from the opening sax notes -- straight from your favorite porn flick -- Manilow shows mercy here and plays it straight. (An aside: I've finally stopped crying at my desk.)
RIGHT HERE WAITING: A very honorable and nearly identical version of the 1989 No. 1 hit by Richard Marx, thankfully bare of unnecessary orchestration. You did good, Barry.
ARTHUR'S THEME: Let's be fair -- few people can naturally channel the ghostly, surreal voice of Christopher Cross. The benefit of having Barry perform it? We can finally understand the lyrics. "I know it's crazy, but it's true."
HARD TO SAY I'M SORRY: No, it's not that hard, Barry. Start with, "I'm really, really sorry, Peter Cetera and Chicago, for attempting to cover your classic tune from 1982." And now apologize for overusing your backup singers on your rendition. I'd swear Barry also was changing the words here and there, except -- again -- I never really knew what Peter was singing anyway.
TIME AFTER TIME: Oh, I've got chills. Just not the good chills -- the kind you get after eating rancid potato salad. I'd love to hear Cyndi Lauper's reaction after hearing her '84 song redone (perhaps using a Casio keyboard bought for $45 on eBay), but right now I just need a warm blanket, some Gatorade and a very dark place to nap.
(I'VE HAD) THE TIME OF MY LIFE: Always beware of the last song on new CDs these days. I'm convinced artists hide their biggest sins here. This tune, originally performed by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes for 1987's Dirty Dancing soundtrack, falls shortest of all on this disc. The upside? If Barry holds true to his word and makes this his last album of hits from past decades, we won't have to worry about his rendition of Smells Like Teen Spirit and Nuthin' but a "G" Thang.
[Getty Images photo]