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Dec 08

BARBRA STREISAND – “Woman In Love”

FT + Popular48 comments • 3,604 views

#468, 25th October 1980

Barbra Streisand won her fame as a musical star – in other words an interpretative singer. And so “Woman In Love” raises a thorny question: what happens to such a singer when what she has to interpret is gibberish? The brothers Gibb seem to have put together the song from a bunch of resonant phrases that they knew Streisand could really sell – “I am a woman in love!” “I stumble and all – but I give you my all!” – and then polyfilla’d them into place with some vaguely metaphysical cheese. You know you’re in trouble from the first line – “Life is a moment in space….”: Streisand, doing her best, makes this sound like she’s taking you into her confidence – which actually makes matters worse, because you’re focusing on the words, not letting them drift by you. And the words make her seem like a flake.

It’s a shame, because there’s a great song lurking in “Woman In Love” – the Gibbs know their way around a tune, and in spots things come together: on the “riiiiiiight to defend” line, for instance, it’s as stirring and showy as only a big-haired ballad can be, and the contrast with the weariness implied in “over and over again” is strong. But those moments, and Streisand’s soft-focus classiness, can’t quite distract me from there being nothing much to grip onto in “Woman In Love” – it’s a melody and a performer in futile search for a point.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    wichita lineman on 2 Dec 2008 #

    Tom, the Guilty album could be worth a moment of your time – What Kind Of Fool is another Babs/Barry duet, a (very) sweet soul ballad, with Barry aiming for the longest held note which anticipates his next line (hard to explain but will make sense once you hear it).

    1980 in a nutshell was knocking on the door behind Woman In Love:
    2. Quo – What You’re Proposing (NWOBHM-inspired biggest hit since Down Down)
    3. Bad Manners – Special Brew (novelty hit = death knell for ska)
    4. Matchbox – When You Ask About Love (decent rockabilly-ish cover anticipating Stray Cats/Polecats revivalism, and onwards to Psychobilly)

    Has youth culture ever been more splintered?

  2. 27
    Mark G on 2 Dec 2008 #

    #26 – Was Barry Gibb’s next line “please stop I have a headache” ?

  3. 28
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 2 Dec 2008 #

    “NWOBHM-inspired” — does this mean that Quo were inspired by the NWOBHM to write it, or that the NWOBHM-fans were rushing to buy it? (neither seems terribly likely)

    or that it’s actually ABOUT the NWOBHM — which is admittedly my favourite theory —
    What you’re proposin’ the other night
    As I was leavin’, I looks left and right
    And not believin’
    And not believin’ that I’d finally be leavin’

    “you” is the new wave, what it’s “proposin” is the arrival of this new young heavy sound; and francis can’t believe it’s time for him to leave the stage etc

  4. 29
    Taylor on 2 Dec 2008 #

    “NWOBHM-inspired” — does this mean that Quo were inspired by the NWOBHM to write it, or that the NWOBHM-fans were rushing to buy it? (neither seems terribly likely)

    Not sure the latter is that unlikely. All the metallers at my school loved the Quo, which baffled me at the time as I couldn’t see much of a link between ageing, winking boogie and the piss-drenched histrionics of Saxon and friends. They were indeed embraced by the NWOBHM massive, with some force, and I suspect this explains that chart placing.

    Persisted, too: cf “In Bed With Chris Needham”, 1992, specifically the interview with Needham’s seven-year-old brother (“Britain’s youngest thrash metal fan”).

    Greg: Do you like Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Sepultura, groups like that? What’s your favourite out of them?

    Jon: (thinks) Quo.

  5. 30
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 2 Dec 2008 #

    i don’t even think of quo as being metal, and i’m old and from the midlands (haha like metal)

    oh well, they’re better than maiden, ac/dc or sepultura so yay for jon needham and his secret ears

  6. 31
    DV on 2 Dec 2008 #

    Kind of like 8 year old Billy, 12 year old Dirty Vicar had a sneaking regard for this song. It suggested that it might be worth getting to know one of these women in love.

  7. 32
    vince on 3 Dec 2008 #

    Exuse me?? At the end of “My Coloring Book” on her second album, Barbra holds the last note for 20 seconds. At the end of “Piece of Sky” from “Yentl” she holds that glorious note for 23 seconds. Barbra reigns. For those too closed minded and simple to not be able to appreciate her genius, it is your loss. You’re lucky to be alive in her time.

  8. 33
    wichita lineman on 3 Dec 2008 #

    Re 29: yes, that was the NWOBHM angle i was getting at.

    Re 21: Quo “on the turn”? Can i put a tentative hand in the air for a bunch of early 80s hits including Rock And Roll and Marguerita Time that saw Quo “mature”? I’m not going to stick up for the rote Jobcentre ad-speak of In The Army Now, but at least they were trying. More than you can say for Oasis.

  9. 34
    peter goodlaws on 3 Dec 2008 #

    Back to the cheese and pickle sandwiches with this. My mum bought this and used to sing it in the house. For that reason I can’t hate it, nice memories I guess but its pretty dodgy and I don’t know who Barbara is in love with coz she looks like a geezer to me.

  10. 35
    Conrad on 3 Dec 2008 #

    What is this obsession with lengthy holding of notes? It sounds horrific and I wish singers wouldn’t do it. I invariably find myself fading out the otherwise brilliant “Adventures In Paradise” by Minnie Riperton before my windows shatter.

    “Woman In Love” would benefit greatly too from losing half a minute at the end. And I start to feel out of breath myself when Bill Withers lets fly at the tail of “Lovely Day.”

  11. 36
    Conrad on 3 Dec 2008 #

    33, I normally struggle with Quo, but “Rock N Roll” is terrific. Best thing they ever did.

  12. 37
    Billy Smart on 3 Dec 2008 #

    Re #25: “Boog food” was still in common parlance in my day, but has gone by now.

    My archetypal Royal Holloway SU gig memory was My Life Story playing their then current minor hit single ‘You Don’t Sparkle’ in November 1996. Guy Fawkes Night sparklers are handed to the crowd to add to the mood of the song. Horrified health & safety security rush the floor, wrench them out of our hands and stamp them out on the ground.

    Re #33: I think that I’d actually have more respect for 21st century Oasis if they just dropped all pretence of credibility and original thought and released an ‘Anniversary Waltz’-style medley.

  13. 38
    peter goodlaws on 3 Dec 2008 #

    Do you remember “I’m all out of love” when the little bloke holds the final note at the end? That’s a big finish. Air Supply indeed. They were aussies, wernt they?

  14. 39
    LondonLee on 3 Dec 2008 #

    I went to a party of a head-banging friend in our Sixth Form (there were only three of them) who usually came to school in a cut off denim jacket adorned with Saxon, Motorhead and Zojo patches and can attest to the fact that much frantic and sweaty banging was done to Quo’s ’12 Gold Bars’ album. I can also attest to the fact that I joined in and had a lot of fun, but don’t tell anyone that please.

  15. 40

    the secret joke behind the leprechaun dance scene in spinal tap is that the famous Quo Jive actually draws on genuine pre-Roman druidical rituals, kept alive in parts of the Black Country where xtianity failed to penetrate and paganism still flourishes (viz halesowen)

  16. 41
    Elle on 8 Dec 2008 #

    I am CONVINCED that Snow (of Informer fame) ripped off the melody of Woman In Love in his song Lady With The Red Dress:
    http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=LNRJwBrx4Nw

    Am I crazy?

  17. 42
    Angela Sa'o on 13 Mar 2009 #

    man you sing really good and it touches evryones heart…….

  18. 43
    Trey Parker on 12 Aug 2009 #

    I hate you Mecha Streisand

  19. 44
    Brooksie on 15 Feb 2010 #

    @ Trey Parker # 43:

    Mecha Streisand is our god. She rules.

    Love this song, I don’t buy the “not much to grab onto” idea either. It’s a sinewy tight production number that uses Streisand’s voice as a conduit. It’s like a beefy version ‘Evergreen’. There’s not much to hold onto because the song is a snake – a long tight muscle. It’s like the anti ‘I Will Survive’ – that song contained thumping beats and orchestra stabs and self-righteous yelled bombast; this contains vague platitudes about life and the importance of holding onto something worth having that flow over you without demanding you agree.

    Not sure I agree that ‘Heartbreaker’ is better either; the age of the tacky synth was upon them when they produced that one, and the Dionne vocal can’t hide the squashed bontempi backing. It’s also a pop song more than a ballad; uptempo and hooky. ‘Woman In Love’ is a straight up ballad.

  20. 45
    Chelovek na lune on 8 Sep 2010 #

    Lovely, that’s all, classy, melodious, properly adult (well, middle-aged, but still full of life) pop. I lived in Ukraine for a time in the mid-90s and this song was inescapable on radio or in cafes, bars, etc. I kind of think that the nearest thing in mood to this song, specifically, was some of the more “adult pop ballads” of Seal – like “Kiss from a Rose”; the same kind of non-hip sophistication. All of which is a good thing. I’ll give this an 8, but it could almost be a 9.

  21. 46
    wichita lineman on 20 Jun 2012 #

    Something I wrote on my blog about the parent album:

    http://croydonmunicipal.blogspot.co.uk/

  22. 47
    punctum on 10 Feb 2013 #

    Something I wrote on our blog about the parent album:

    http://nobilliards.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/barbra-streisand-guilty.html

  23. 48
    GuiltyFeat on 12 Aug 2013 #

    I saw Ms Streisand perform this live in Tel Aviv earlier this Summer. She seemed to be singing it as a favour to her fans where it was clear she’s rather be performing American Songbook classics from the 40s and 50s. Nevertheless, it got one of the loudest and most enthusiastic responses from the crowd which appeared to take her entirely by surprise. My interpretation was that “Woman in Love” is not a song she spent much time thinking out over the past 30+ years. She recorded it. She had a surprise No. 1 and she forgot about it. For my money this is a great song, but not the greatest thing from the Guilty album which still represents one of the great combinations of songwriting and singing, up there with the greatest works by Simon & Garfunkel. I know there are Barry Gibb haters out there and I realize that not everyone has the stomach for La Streisand, but I rate Guilty up there with Jeff Buckley’s Grace, The Bends and The Queen Is Dead as some of the greatest complete albums ever recorded.

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