Barbra Streisand’s ‘Walls’ Is A Timely Plea For Compassion: Album Review

Mike Wass | November 5, 2018 2:09 pm
Barbra's 'Don't Lie To Me' Video
Barbra Streisand makes a bold political statement in her latest music video.

Barbra Streisand has always been outspoken about her political beliefs, but rarely let them impact her art. That changes on Walls. The superstar’s 36th studio album is very much a reaction to the ever-deepening chasm between Left and Right, and the resulting chaos that gushes from it. For the first time in 30 years, the superstar’s name appears in the credits (the last time 1998’s Till I Loved You LP) and she uses her platform to start a dialogue. In many ways, that is the most impressive thing about Walls. It’s not spiteful or accusatory. Rather, it’s an extraordinarily vulnerable plea for compassion and healing.

Opening track “What’s On My Mind,” which Streisand co-wrote with the legendary Carol Bayer Sager, is as literal as its title. “I’m lying here awake, photographs flash through my head,” the living legend sings over strummed guitar and a dreamy orchestral arrangement. “If only I could get some rest, I toss and turn instead.” That very relatable statement is followed by the hitmaker’s long list of fears and concerns. The song has a disarming directness and intimacy that commands your full attention. Something it keeps on “Don’t Lie To Me.”

While some have tried to dismiss Walls as anti-Trump, the album’s lead single is one of the few instances where things get personal and pointed. And, even then, it’s more of a call for the world to start making sense again. “Don’t Lie To Me” also boasts the most instant and contemporary production on the LP as well as one of Streisand’s best vocal performances, which is really saying something. That also applies to her exquisite mashup of “Imagine” and “What A Wonderful World,” two classics that take on a whole new meaning in today’s political climate.

There’s a theatricality to “Walls” and “Lady Liberty” that evoke the 76-year-old’s Broadway roots. Both tracks wouldn’t sound out of place in musical (I’m imagining an updated version of Hamilton). The first, a beautifully constructed gem from long-time collaborators Walter Afanasieff, Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman, ruminates on the wonder of a living in world without walls — both literal and metaphorical. The latter, a contemplative ballad, is a call for hope and inspiration. The vocal on “Lady Liberty” is truly captivating with Streisand’s voice beaming like a spotlight in the night sky. It’s a definite highlight.

Just as impressive is “Better Angels” — an appeal for reconciliation, compassionate and togetherness. That underlying belief in the goodness of mankind is also on display on the exquisite “Love’s Never Wrong,” a beautifully understated ballad that will mean a lot to Streisand’s legion of LGBTQ+ fans. The dual Oscar winner’s final co-write, “The Rain Will Fall,” is the album’s most uptempo and pop-adjacent song. It’s a defiant, powerful reminder that love and goodness will ultimately prevail.

Nobody interprets a classic with as much reverence as Barbra Streisand, which makes familiar material come alive in her hands. The enduring star’s cover of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “What The World Needs Now Is Love” has never sounded more fragile, while the vocal on “Take Care Of This House,” a relatively obscure song from a short-lived music called 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, has to be heard to be believed. It’s also no coincidence that Streisand closes the album with “Happy Days Are Here Again.” A song closely associated with the Great Depression, it spreads the healing message that this too shall pass.

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