Musician, composer, singer, entertainer, humanitarian: many hats for one person to wear, yet Barry Manilow makes it look easy. With a continuous career that spans decades; unwavering, seldom-rivaled celebrity; and a gentlemanly integrity many could learn from; Barry is the personification of handling fame well.
Manilow spent two determined years producing 15 Minutes, his first original album in a decade. With courage he chose to break from a safe, reliable comfort zone to follow the passion that brings him bliss: creating strong, powerful music. Because at his core Barry is first, foremost and always a musician. With the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the album’s release this past Tuesday, I’d say he made an excellent decision. I hope it’s the beginning in a resurgence of the magnificent music of Manilow.
Listen to 15 Minutes with new ears. It’s time to put aside preconceived notions of power ballads and love songs; gone are the covers. This isn’t the Manilow music you’re used to, but it is Manilow—composer, musician, singer—at his absolute finest. In fact, I am so blown away; I believe this album is the most emotionally charged body of work Barry Manilow has ever put his hand to. His passion, heart, and soul are gloriously palpable throughout.
Surging guitar, resonant drums and pounding piano, create rock with a hint of country; rockabilly, perhaps. Thankfully, among the new elements remains Mr. Manilow’s indisputable, magnificent style. It’s unthinkable to hide what’s been perfection for nearly four decades. No legend ever has.
With a nod to the famous Andy Warhol quote, 15 Minutes is based on Barry’s unique concept. Formulated from stories of young stars suddenly reaching fame without the emotional readiness or support to handle all that goes with it, sadly causing some to crash and burn, this is a narrative set to music.
As one song compliments and weaves seamlessly into the next, we’re taken on an emotional roller coaster as a performer struggles to achieve fame, reaches his goal, and…what happens next is yours to learn; sharing the climax would ruin the journey.
The album’s tagline asks, “Fame…can you take it?” But don’t think that it relates only to the celebrity life most of us will never know. The concept and lyrics are adaptive to everyone, especially in our shaky economic world. Lives from mail room to boardroom have been heaved into uncertainty and loss. We struggle to reach our goals and then, like glass on tile, we shatter. If we’re strong, we re-evaluate what means the most to us and climb the mountain again and, maybe, once more. The message of this album affords us the opportunity to reflect on the personal choices we make and the possible consequences that ensue.
Manilow adds a new dimension to his innate ability to make the listener feel. Through his remarkable, award worthy performance, he takes on the persona of the character he delivers. Often stepping from his own amiable persona to magnify the angst and rage the character endures as his world falls apart. We hope, hurt, cheer, and cry as the story becomes immensely real. Like audio literature, use your imagination to visualize the characters and conjure images as you choose. So superb is his execution, I was left breathless, imagining him an actor, leaving the stage in exhaustion after submerging himself in his role.
“Phenomenal” is the only way to describe the dynamic power and intensity of Barry Manilow’s voice. Like fine wine improving with age, Barry has been graced with resonating richness and clarity of emotion, the character’s feelings magnified by his infinite range. And the youthfulness of his voice is not unnoticed in enhancing the credibility.
Likewise notable, there are great composers, dynamic musicians and talented singers but how many can lay claim to remarkable talent in all arenas?
Soulful harmonica, woeful guitar and drum open the album, setting the scene, as we meet a frustrated, hard-working guy with a dream, perhaps stopping to wipe his brow, digging a road in hot sun. His quest for yet unreachable fame takes focus in imploring, “Don’t let me be an untold story.” Soaring drums create racy excitement when we follow him to meet “suits” holding his destiny. He takes the opportunity to “Work the Room”. You fall in love with the character during the gorgeous ballad, “Bring On Tomorrow,” sung to his sleeping love, with tender, heart-melting gentleness akin to a lullaby: “Whatever you’re dreamin’ is no longer on hold.” You want this guy to make it, and big! We feel him level with reality, his dream has come true, in “Now It’s for Real” as he sings, “All the way up I’m gonna climb / been waitin’ forever, and here”s my time.”
Is he losing touch with what really matters? Has the downward spiral already begun? Is he finding fake clarity with a substance? Who’s he telling “I need a little warmth in my bed” in “Wine Song?” Barry gives the character just the right edge of heady ego, proclaiming “He’s a Star” ; “no one can tell him anymore”. Fooling himself into thinking that happiness is his, that it doesn’t matter that he has “no companions, only enemies and slaves,” as long as concert halls are filled and “they’re hangin on his music.”
“Written In Stone,” a personal favorite, touches on the love of his life that he’s losing, who’s been at his side but is now falling further into the shadows. Doesn’t she see that his life has changed? She needs to be patient. “So I should’a called baby, trust me some more.” Does she get it? “Didn’t I say we were written in stone, so how come I’m here all alone?”. The music of “Bring On Tomorrow” plays gently at songs end, bringing us back to a time when love and happiness truly was his.
Nataly Dawn of the Indie duo Pomplamoose gives a stunning performance in “Letter From a Fan/So Heavy, So High.” Not a duet, but a blend of two potent songs. Nataly in chillingly calm madness is a delusional fan, loving but out of control. Barry’s deep baritone, enhanced with heavy guitar, makes real the “star’s” near-manic renunciation, “too tired to sleep, too wired to try;” he just wants it all to stop because “the well has run dry.”
“Winner Go Down” is equally chilling. You witness the pain a celebrity feels as fans bestow love when he’s up, but quickly kick him to the curb “when they see you break down.” How often have we seen this scenario in daily headlines? A brief, yet powerful song, “Everybody’s Leavin’” heard in an acoustic echo gives a glimpse of what’s going on inside him, he’s breaking down, fearing “sooner or later everybody goes”.
The high energy of “Who Needs You” will make you want to hit the floor and kick it big time, but don’t miss the latent anger. He’s tired of hangers-on “leanin’ on me,” “claimin’ you made me,” “feeling important.” He can do it alone! As the song mellows, so does he, realizing there’s “nothin in the mirror,” but yet his ego insists he “can stop when he wants to.” He’s “in control”.
If “Slept Through the End of the World” and “Trainwreck” don’t put a lump in your throat, listen to them again! Enoch Anderson’s gripping lyrics, delivered in Barry’s unique style will make you feel to your core. His understated power, almost tear-filled melancholy tone and depth of emotion, breaks your heart for the “star,” and for yourself, in remembering each time your world crashed, but you went on because you had to.
In “Slept…,” he knows he failed, that “there’s nobody there;” “how long since anyone cared?” With only shadows to say all he should have, too wrapped up in himself. “Did he miss something real?” This song needs to be showcased for its sublime splendor, breath-taking performance; and heard by everyone who’s ever felt they’ve hit a brick wall. Haven’t we all? Soulful guitar strumming. In “Trainwreck,” he’s resigned to face his demons, to “look in the mirror, could it be clearer, end of the line…” He owns what he did wrong, he’s ready to get “back on track:” “life goes on whether you don’t or you do!” “What’s past is past”, his resignation takes center stage. An inspirational reminder: pity parties have tiny guest lists and serve little purpose. Again, as the song fades we’re taken back to a gentle, gorgeous, instrumental reprise of “Bring On Tomorrow”. Our minds drift to his early days, before the fame and glory; when he had a love that was his alone. He’d had all that really matters when the stage goes dark and the crowds go home.
A beautiful instrumental written by Barry Manilow, “Reflection” rests between the two profound songs, letting us wonder what’s coming next. A reprise of the opening song “15 Minutes” has a different message in it’s lyric, we see his reality to fame, he saw the worst perhaps he’s not willing to give up. The closing heart pounding orchestration, reminds me of something akin to “Phantom of the Opera”. Is “Everything Gonna Be All Right?” Is he honest in saying, “I can see the future starin’ right at me, I’m here to inform you I like what I see?” Only time will tell—hopefully in a second volume to this powerfully intense album.
Another nod to the genius of 15 Minutes: each song has the substance to stand on its own merit as a single away from the context of the story, giving this album various levels of enjoyment.
There is no explicable reason for this album, Barry Manilow, and all involved, not to be nominated in multiple GRAMMY categories. This is an album not to be ignored!
*15 Minutes sets a new standard for contemporary compositions, challenging musicians and composers to reach high in meeting this new and innovative bar of excellence. Snippets, samples, and reviews—even this one—don’t do 15 Minutes justice. This work, in its entirety, is not to be ignored.
Available in stores and on-line, now.