I would love to tear a few pages out of Barbra Streisand’s address book because she teamed up with some unbelievably huge artists on her album Partners. The collection of pop vocal duets was released last year, and Streisand sounds absolutely angelic as she schmoozes in song with some of the biggest names in the industry, including (in order of appearance) Michael Bublé, Stevie Wonder, John Mayer, Babyface, Billy Joel, Blake Shelton, Lionel Richie, Andrea Bocelli, her son Jason Gould, John Legend, Josh Groban, and Elvis freakin’ Presley. It’s official – I want to be Barbra Streisand when I grow up.
The album is a blend of new duets and old releases, and the concept for Partners is undeniably clever. As diverse as all of her male counterparts are, every track has one big thing in common: They take their time. No matter who Streisand pairs up with, the duo sings languidly and dramatically, stretching out every word of every song like taffy. Why? Because they can. They’re total megastars, they’re cultural icons. They know we’ll listen. They can do whatever they want to these songs and they don’t need anyone’s permission. I love that.
The vocals are so flawless they hardly even seem real. Reimagined ballads like “New York State of Mind,” “It Had to Be You,” and “Somewhere,” are executed with such theatrical elegance that I guarantee these songs are going to make it into a lot of wedding playlists. But as much as I love grandpa music, this is some grandpa music. The album is pretty mushy-gushy. It definitely bumps up against my sentimental limits a bit, and for someone who shamelessly cries over superhero movies, that’s hard to do. I love a good tearjerker. But Partners is heavy. Syrupy sweet, supposed-to-be-candid-but-are-definitely-scripted conversations are sprinkled throughout the album as subtly as anvils, like when she and Billy Joel plan a meal together. “Billy, let’s go get some pizza.” “How about Chinese?” “Even better!” Meh.
But although Partners is not an album I would listen to straight through more than a couple times, I think it’s an album that needed to happen. I also think some of its schmaltzier moments will sound better with time, and eventually become the little gems they are supposed to be. The star-studded collection is especially interesting in light of the Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury duet that was just posthumously debuted today, after spending 33 years on the backburner. The fact that their duet almost never saw the light of day makes Streisand’s new album, even more, treasured. Collaborations like these are more than just songs. They’re an important piece of history, and I’m glad she made it happen.