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28 September 2018

FOCAL POINT : Barbra Streisand, "Don't Lie To Me"

FIFTY-SIX YEARS after she recorded her first album, Barbra Streisand releases a single (the first from her upcoming album Walls) that continues to place her squarely in the front and center of contemporary pop music affairs. "Don't Lie To Me" is a thumping pop anthem with catchy hooks that could have been written by Adele, Lady Gaga, or Mick Hucknall. The vocal and instrumental arrangements sound so modern, one is left to wonder why Ms. Streisand’s last two albums, despite a slew of pop-music collaborators, didn't leverage on her uncanny ability to still sing on the beat.

Ms. Streisand wrote "Don't Lie To Me" as a plea to the current presidency, but the song can also be interpreted as a paean to a mistrusted romance. It contains several references to her rich canon of recording work. On my eleventh consecutive listening, I sensed melodic traces of three songs from her radio-friendly era: "Widescreen" (1975), "Make It Like A Memory" (1980), and "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)" (1979). I imagined a violin and cello borrowed from 1985’s The Broadway Album. There’s throwback to her 1960s patter-song days with those quick phrases in the middle of the song. James Newton Howard, The Prince of Tides (1991) composer, would have enjoyed its use of minor chords, and Barry Gibb, Guilty (1980) partner, would have related to its catchy refrain. And was the chorus channelling Cydie King and Veneeta Fields from Ms. Streisand’s backup vocal band in the early 1970s?

The last time Ms. Streisand sounded this contemporary was in 2005, with Barry Gibb on Guilty Pleasures. I never imagined that she would return to singing pop on the beat, especially at 76 years old. Listen to the new recording and you'll realize why Barbra Streisand remains the supreme vocal interpreter of popular song, possibly the only one left in our generation.


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