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March 2002

Barry Manilow
Here at the Mayflower
Concord Records

The last time I gave any serious thought to Barry Manilow was, well, never. When Manilow was making suburban hearts flutter with his treacly ballads, I was busy listening to the likes of Donald Fagen. And when he returned from pop purgatory to try his hand at swing and Sinatra, I slotted him into the same camp as Carly Simon, Toni Tennille and all the other capable but uninspiring wannabes.

When, however, advance enthusiasm began to percolate about his ambitious new project, Here at the Mayflower (Concord CCD-2102-2; 62:39), I was concerned that I might have misjudged him. No worry. In theory, the concept is intriguing: 16 original songs themed around the various residents of a New York apartment house. In practice, it's a discordant, gimmick-ridden jumble, replete with elevator and intercom effects. It also seems to too strongly echo Manilow's past successes. "Turn the Radio Up" sounds like a fast food jingle; "Not What You See" is cornball tripe, complete with repeated use of the trite epithet "Sonny," about the building's oldest residents; and "The Night That Tito Played" comes across like a stale, dated follow-up to "Copacabana." There is, however, some gold among the dross. "Border Train" is a thoughtful rumination on living on the periphery and "I Miss You" succeeds as a sweet lament to lost love. Both suggest that if Manilow would just strip away all the embellishments and keep things slow and simple, he'd likely craft something worthy of his creativity and experience.

Originally published in March 2002
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