While reviews of Steinman’s solo album weren’t all negative, one point that consistently received criticism was his vocal performance on the mega-ballad “Left in the Dark.” So, here we are three years later replacing him with probably the most-respected voice of the generation in Barbra Streisand. That certainly sounds promising. The song is also being produced by Steinman with his usual band (Bitten, Weinberg, Fast, Buslowe, Maelen, Dodd, Troyer and Sherwood.) Rick Derringer is playing lead guitar again as well, with Jeffrey Southworth credited for “additional guitars.” That also sounds promising.
The song opens with an odd synthesized rhythm sound and Streisand delivers the opening narration. She doesn’t sound nearly as dramatic as Steinman, and I honestly still don’t really feel like this speech adds much, but she does actually keep it from the original recording. Bittan then begins a surprisingly gentle piano and her vocal also enters softly. Some synthesizers fill up the sound a bit and both Bittan and Streisand get more assertive, and then Weinberg’s typically-booming drums join in. After the first chorus, there is a cut back to the piano-and-vocal-only sound and then the Dodd/Troyer/Sherwood backing vocals join in, as well as some electric guitar fills from Derringer that noticeably seem to have the same guitar tone as “Making Love out of Nothing at All” did. The song really keeps that same sound the rest of the way, with the biggest change being a synth solo.
It’s an unfortunate re-arrangement of the song. I don’t know if there just wasn’t a budget for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (or someone similar) to appear or they wanted a more “contemporary” sound by using synthesizers or what, but it’s a downgrade. Steinman’s weak vocals aside, the original recording of “Left in the Dark” is gorgeous and emotionally affecting in part because of the way it can go from whispered vocals on top of just a piano to an orchestra booming at full blast on top of full-throated shouts. Streisand’s recording is a much more standard-issue soft rock ballad as a result.
The lyrics are still amazing, because they are essentially unchanged from Steinman’s version. The pronouns are switched, and “So take off your dress” becomes “As I watch you undress.” Otherwise, it is word-for-word the same. You can see what I think of them here.
However, I have to say something that I’m sure is horrifying to most here: I actually do not like Streisand’s vocals much. She of course hits all of the notes, but the complex emotions that form the core of this song just seem to be missing. When she says, “There are so many things that I just gotta know/You tell me who!/You tell me where!/You tell me when!,” the anger is lacking. When she follows up with “But don’t tell me now–I don’t need any answers tonight,” it doesn’t even feel like a transition, let alone the extreme transition it is. And then “I just need some love, so turn out the lights/And I’ll be left in the dark again” comes out with this almost triumphant sound that absolutely does not fit the depressing realization that the line represents. I don’t know if that’s just me, but I absolutely get no emotional connection to the lyrics from her. In spite of his clear and obvious weakness as a singer, I would take Steinman’s performance over hers any day. I do realize how insane that sounds.
“Left in the Dark” with a strong vocalist sounds like it should be guaranteed to be great, but this version just doesn’t live up to that. It’s still fine overall–it’s still a beautiful song and Streisand’s performance is at least technically competent, no matter how much I find it lacking–it’s just not as good as it should be. The smaller arrangement and the lack of emotion in the vocals conspire to make this a weaker version of a song that really seemed like it could use a good cover.
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