Placing the raw beginning of her career (beautifully represented by the stark resignation of "Hello in There") against the brassy persona she has since cultivated ("Miss Otis Regrets") against the overblown A/C cuts that have been her biggest hits ("From a Distance," "Wind Beneath My Wings"), Bette Midler shows on this album why she is a legend and not just a popular recording artist. Being able to raise those enormously popular ballads from muck simply by rising above the production with her expressive, sterling vocals, thus making bland material classy, is one thing. But pulling off the coarseness of "When a Man Loves a Woman" as well as the sultry "Do You Wanna Dance?" in practically the same breath, while never overstating the steadfast certainty of "The Rose," shows range that most pop "stars" can't even spell. Despite that, giving listeners an overview of a 30-year career with more good material than hit singles would be difficult in any case, and some of the choices for this album seem almost arbitrary, considering the single "Beast of Burden" from No Frills and classic cuts like "Come Back Jimmy Dean" from the same album and the wrenching "Superstar" from her stellar debut, The Divine Miss M, are missing. On the plus side, Experience the Divine includes "One for my Baby (And One More for the Road)," which Midler performed as the chosen final guest of Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. Atlantic did a sound job of culling from her repertoire, and this album represents all that most casual fans would need to get an understanding of the vocalist beyond her hit singles, but, as with any true artist, to truly experience the Divine, you would need to check out each of her albums to find all of the gems.
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AllMusic Review by Bryan Buss