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'Walls' review: Barbra Streisand struggles to find the right lyrical tone on this uneven album

Barbra Streisand's "Walls" on Columbia Records

Barbra Streisand's "Walls" on Columbia Records Credit: Columbia Records

BARBRA STREISAND

"Walls"

BOTTOM LINE Streisand struggles to find the right lyrical tone.

When you have a voice as stunningly beautiful as Barbra Streisand's, what you sing matters.

The material is what made Streisand’s last album, 2016’s “Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway,” such a pleasant surprise. It’s also what makes her new album, “Walls” (Columbia), so uneven.

It’s no secret Streisand is an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump. And nearly all of “Walls,” her first album of primarily new songs since 2005’s “Guilty Pleasures,” is a response to the president and this era of intense political controversies.

“How did we come to this divide?” she asks in the opener, “What’s On My Mind.” “Is this God’s creation? One for all, but millions left behind?”

No matter how well Streisand sings these lines, it will only sound reactionary. It’s a problem that’s even worse on the first single, “Don’t Lie to Me,” which could actually have been a hit, with its Adele-like drama and well-crafted arrangement. But then Streisand wonders, “How do you sleep when the world keeps turning? All that we’ve built has come undone. How do you sleep when the world is burning? Everyone answers to someone.”

Streisand fares much better pulling existing songs into this context. Her unlikely mashup of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” actually works, as does the Bacharach and David classic “What the World Needs Now.” And her passionate version of “Take Care of This House” from Leonard Bernstein and Alan Jay Lerner’s Broadway musical “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” captures the intensity of her feelings well.

But the images of doom and brewing trouble on “Walls” are so numerous that they seem to overwhelm the beauty of Streisand’s voice. Even her signature “Happy Days Are Here Again” sounds a bit rained-on. Like so many, she is clearly struggling to come to terms with the new normal, but hearing Streisand sound defeated, rather than defiant, makes “Walls” less inspiring than usual.

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