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Album Reviews / Pop

Miss M Still Wacky Outside, Tender Inside

September 14, 1998|ELYSA GARDNER

BETTE MIDLER

"Bathhouse Betty"

Warner Bros.

* * *

Although her most popular singles have been sentimental ballads, Midler's greatest asset as a vocalist has always been her ability to mitigate schmaltz with wit. This album, which incorporates styles ranging from swing to country to light pop, is a fine showcase for her artistic range and her wry-to-wacky sense of humor.

On the breezy "I'm Hip," she combines the deft phrasing of a jazz chanteuse with the expert timing of a seasoned comedian, while on the hyper-effusive "I'm Beautiful, Dammit!" she manages to at once parody and celebrate the self-empowering messages put forth by some of today's dance and hip-hop divas.

Granted, the album's emotional center lies in more tender, reflective material. The first single, "My One True Friend," is a lush tear-jerker in the tradition of "Wind Beneath My Wings," but is less maudlin than that hit, thanks to Midler's relatively understated delivery. The singer is even more effective on the lovely, plaintive "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman" and on a graceful, worldly-wise version of Ben Folds' "Boxing." By juggling wistful irony with reserved pathos, Miss M gives fresh evidence of her potentially divine skills as an interpretive singer.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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