Although there has been confusion about the release date — some say it was last Tuesday, the record label’s press release says it will “drop” Sept. 28 — the new Liza Minnelli CD “Confessions” wouldn’t be likely to find much favor with fans or non-fans whenever it appeared.
Presented without the sort of production “protection” she desperately needs — the only back-up comes from pianist Billy Stritch — Minnelli is at best mediocre, at worst cringe-inducing, as she makes her way through a collection of standards (“All the Way,” “At Last”) and less well known tunes from old-timers like Cy Coleman and Arthur Schwartz.
Although Minnelli conquered Broadway at the age of 19 — winning a Tony for “Flora the Red Menace” — and had Hollywood at her feet seven years later — when she won the Oscar for “Cabaret” — the star has never made much impact as a recording artist.
Unlike such peers as Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler, Minnelli was never able to find the right tunes or the right producers to translate her stage and screen success into hit pop records. (Minnelli released a single of “New York, New York” in 1977 but the song didn’t score with the public until Frank Sinatra recorded it several years later).
Most of Minnelli’s recordings have been made during live performances rather than in the studio, with brassy arrangements and hysterical crowds bolstering her often shaky vocalising.
She was always one of those stars you had to see as well as listen to — in concert 40 years ago, the dancing and the youthful spirit of good humor and naked emotion more than made up for her vocal deficits.
I haven’t seen Minnelli live since the 1970s, but I’m told she has summoned up a lot of the old performance magic in her most recent New York engagements.
On “Confessions,” all we get is a semi-ravaged voice, stripped of the star’s visual razzle dazzle, and it just isn’t enough to warrant a commercial CD release.
Minnelli has presented herself as a strangely needy performer — even though she was born into show business royalty and was a star before she turned 20, she has always seemed to demand unrestrained audience adoration as one of her primary sources of energy and inspiration.
Because of the passionate fans who have followed her for nearly 50 years, Minnelli has risen above personal scandals, endless health crises, and a bad track record when it comes to fulfilling her performance obligations (the star’s many absences during the runs of two Broadway shows in the late 1970s and early 1980s — “The Act” and “The Rink” — turned off producers to the point where she has not appeared in a new eight-show-a-week, book musical for almost 30 years).
The crazed fans seem to relish the endless cycle of disaster and comeback almost as much as they admire the star’s talent, so “Confessions” is just the latest setback in a long series of roadblocks Minnelli followers have overcome.