Bette Midler

Thighs and Whispers

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The Divine Miss M's sixth release on Atlantic, and the one right before The Rose, finds the singer reunited with producer Arif Mardin, who contributed to her self-titled second album. Despite Bette Midler being in fine voice for Thighs and Whispers, a play on the title Cries and Whispers, a 1972 offering from film director Ingmar Bergman, and outside of a terrific version of Johnny Bristol's 1974 Top Ten solo hit "Hang on in There Baby," this 1979 disc is stuck in the '70s when an artist of Midler's stature should have made a recording that was her ode to the decade of decadence. The disco beat on most of the album is an irritant years later, though, as stated, Motown producer Johnny Bristol's "Hang on tn There Baby" survives the incessant drum/high hat sound. "Big Noise From Winnetka," sadly, does not, a future anachronism Mardin avoided with former Midler backup singer Melissa Manchester when "You Should Hear How She Talks About You" added rock to the dance vibe three years later in 1982. "Millworker" and "Cradle Days" are more traditional Midler and for that reason they entertain, her strengths are formidable, and here she goes to those areas of power. Where Bette's second album had co-production from Barry Manilow and the third, Songs for the New Depression, from Mark "Moogy" Klingman, Thighs and Whispers would have benefited with more than one vision. The girl group fascination which was a wonderful point of reference for Bette, reprised somewhat on 1977's Live at Last and 1980's Divine Madness, is missing in action here, though high points like the vocal performance on "Cradle Days" work very well. The disco comes back to haunt "My Knight in Black Leather," a song that would have worked better if it had a bit of techno angst as well as more trendy S & M references. As a sappy dancefloor exercise this version should have been an outtake. And that Jerry Ragovoy co-wrote it is the real shocker -- Midler using his "Stay With Me" to wonderful effect in her film The Rose. Bette's own co-write "Hurricane" works as well as Elton John's Victim of Love failed disco experiment -- which is to say it doesn't. But Mac Rebennack's "Rain" is more than a delight, it's a real diamond in the rough here. "Married Men" closes out the album, and it is disco that works, La Bette's own version of "It's Raining Men" with the flavor of illicit romance an integral part of that decade. Bette Midler is such a consistent and dynamic artist that even she is allowed one exercise in excess. Thighs and Whispers is an uneven album from the harlot starlet which still has its moments.

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