Barbra Streisand – Left in the Dark
There’s a moment when every established artist makes the decision to stop chasing chart positions and worrying about being thought of as relevant or contemporary, choosing instead to make what Elton John describes as ‘age appropriate’ music. For Elton, the moment he fully embraced the concept was in 2010 for his team-up with Leon Russell, The Union, and the sad fact is he hasn’t had a showing in the UK top 40 singles chart since. The good news is the moment just before the penny drops, rather than exposing someone struggling to come to terms with their own limitations, quite often reveals an artist at their most experimental and brings to the fore a previously unexplored dimension to their work. So, for every cringe-inducing mis-step like Kylie’s Sexercise and virtually everything Madonna has released after Confessions on a Dance Floor, there is Liza Minnelli’s Results or Diana Ross’s Chic produced album Diana. While Barbra Streisand’s Emotion doesn’t quite match up to the brilliance of either of the later examples, it has more than its fair share of highlights.
In 1984, Streisand was facing the unenviable challenge of following the biggest album of her career, the Bee Gees infused Guilty, and Emotion has a distinct air of throwing everything at the wall and hoping something sticks. In some respects, Emotion is a near perfect example of the mid-life crisis in musical form, with its grab-bag of musical styles and eclectic list of guest musicians. Of course, this being Barbra, the calibre of collaborators and material is nothing less than top drawer. From the Kim Carnes duet, Make No Mistake (He’s Mine) and the John ‘Cougar’ Mellencamp assisted Step in the Right Direction, to writing and production credits for Diane Warren, Richard Perry and Earth Wind and Fire’s Maurice White, it’s not exactly shabby. Best of the bunch has to be Left in the Dark, the epic and, not to put too fine a point on it, totally bonkers contribution from Jim Steinman.
Steinman came to the project hot on the heels of his international success with Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart and Air Supply’s Making Love Out of Nothing At All the previous year. Steinman had a unique and instantly recognisable sound, but he wasn’t what you’d call prolific. Left in the Dark was a an old song, originally appearing on his own flop 1981 solo album, Bad for Good, and this was a trick he’d pull again and again over the next couple of decades. Another flop side project, 1989’s Pandora’s Box, would be raided to provide material for Celine Dion (It’s All Coming Back to Me Now), Meat Loaf (Good Girls Go to Heaven) and Taylor Dayne (Original Sin).
Clocking in at over 7 minutes long, Left in the Dark is overflowing with the camp bombast and widescreen drama which turned the Steinman penned Bat out of Hell album into one of the biggest selling records in chart history. In the hands of Streisand, it becomes a sinister and twisted morality tale of infidelity and rejection. An extended prologue features the whispered interrogation of a cheating spouse – something I imagine still gets played every hour, on the hour in the Streisand household as a gentle reminder to Mr Brolin – before the song builds into Steinman’s trademarked symphony of crashing drums, heavenly choirs and melodies which sound like they are literally being hammered out of a piano.
Emotion’s relative failure prompted Barbra to wise up, abandon any attempt to be hip or contemporary and embrace her inner musicals queen. It paved the way for the Grammy winning, and entirely age appropriate, Broadway Album the following year and kick-started a (so far) unbroken run of top 15 albums in the US.
Entered chart: 06/10/84
Chart peak: 85
Who could sing this today and have a hit? – Unfortunately Meat Loaf already covered it on 1995’s Welcome to the Neighbourhood or I’d have suggested it might be time for Bat Out of Hell IV: Hell Hath No Fury Like A Bank Manager Scorned, so I’m going to give it to Cher and pray she does a whole album of Steinman covers which might also include a re-recording of Dead Ringer for Love as a completely age inappropriate duet with Adam Lambert.