Those who believe that Bette Midler has only just returned to dramatic performances with her current hit movie haven't been listening to her records. Although she hasn't done any serious film work since she made her mesmerizing breakthrough as a self-destructive singer in The Rose 10 years ago, the Divine Miss M never abandoned theatrics in her record projects. When she sang "Do You Wanna Dance" and "Hello in There" on her first album, Midler proved she was a first-rate actress long before she made a movie. And those who have seen Midler in one of her many benefit performances of late know that onstage she can convert a concert crowd into acolytes in minutes.
But Midler's current status as Hollywood's queen comedian has unfortunately overshadowed her stature as a songstress, which Beaches seemed determined to correct. As a film, Beaches is a contradictory mishmash of moods and intentions. However, the movie's weaknesses are the record's strengths. Displaying a broad spectrum of selections, this album is Midler's best musical showcase in a long time. The songs run from the clever camp "Otto Titsling," a tune about the supposed inventor of the bra Midler cowrote with three others, to an infectious Top-40 duet with David Pack, "I Know You by Heart," which should erase the unfortunate memory of her "Beast of Burden" collaboration with Mick Jagger. It's the powerful ballads that really prove Midler doesn't have to be coddling a dying friend onscreen to move an audience. "Wind Beneath My Wings" (previously recorded by such people as Sheena Easton, Willie Nelson and Perry Como) articulates the movie's theme of enduring friendship, and Midler's heartfelt delivery conveys the message a lot more succinctly and satisfyingly than the film. On Randy Newman's "I Think It's Gonna Rain Today," the worn huskiness of her voice complements the material. And on the climactic standard "The Glory of Love," Midler shrewdly rations the emotion. The song may be a tearjerker, but the singer isn't. As a movie, Beaches isn't exactly divine. As a sound track, it rates an "M" for marvelous. (Atlantic)