Guilty Pleasures isn't simply the belated sequel to Guilty, Barbra Streisand's 1980 collaboration with Barry Gibb. It's the best mainstream pop album she's made since that multi-platinum, chart-topping hit. Of course, the competition isn't exactly stiff -- her pop albums since then have been deliberately safe, overly calculated adult contemporary affairs that only made records of standards like 1985's The Broadway Album shine all the brighter -- and it, like its predecessor, is a bit of an anomaly in Streisand's catalog, since it shares more musical similarities with Barry Gibb's work than Barbra's own, yet there's no denying that this is the most satisfying straight-up pop album she's cut since Guilty. In fact, apart from the crystal-clear, overly clean digital production that immediately pegs it as a 2005 release, Guilty Pleasures could be taken as a bunch of outtakes from the 1980 album. Gibb, who wrote (along with a handful of other collaborators) and produced (along with John Merchant) the entire album, along with playing guitar and providing backup vocals, not only doesn't attempt to update his signature sound, but proudly sticks to unfashionable pop styles like the early-'80s anthemic soft rock of "Stranger in a Strange Land," the mellow Latin-tinged "Hideaway," and the disco of "Night of My Life." Yet instead of sounding like the work of a duo stuck in the past, Guilty Pleasures sounds as if Gibb has constructed a set of 11 songs that play to his strengths as a pop craftsman and Streisand's strengths as an interpreter. This may be firmly within both of their comfort zones, but despite the record's decidedly low-key vibe, neither Barry nor Barbra sound lazy, nor do they sound like they have something to prove, as if they're consciously trying to live up to the standard their first collaboration set. They sound relaxed and quietly assured, which makes this album far more charming than it might initially appear to be. Not everything works -- some of the ballads toward the end of the record are a little too hazy and samey to catch hold -- but most of the album holds its own with Guilty, which means this is not only a pleasant surprise, but one of Barbra's best straight-up mainstream pop records, and an album that surely lives up to its title.
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