Diva, diva, diva, diva

Gregg Shapiro, WiG Staff Writer

Out of his five studio albums, it’s interesting that Rufus Wainwright chose to release a live album recorded during the tour for his fifth, “Release The Stars.” But eight of the songs on the CD portion of the live double-disc CD/DVD set “Milwaukee At Last!” (Decca) derive from that disc. Wainwright sounds genuinely taken aback at the enthusiastic reception he receives on show opener “Release The Stars” and the positive response continues throughout, from the powerful “Going To A Town” to the poppy “Rules and Regulations.” His spot-on rendition of “If Love Were All” offers a taste of his acclaimed recreation of Judy Garland’s “At Carnegie Hall” concert and “Gay Messiah” is nothing short of the perfect finale.

Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of attending a Wainwright concert knows it’s as much a visual experience as an audio one. So the inclusion of a DVD, which expands on the CD is well worth the cost.

Barbra Streisand’s new album “Love Is The Answer” (Columbia) and the Madonna compilation “Celebration” (Warner Brothers) are two strong arguments for springing for the deluxe edition option. “Love Is The Answer” succeeds on many levels, not the least of which is the age-appropriate material.

In the extensive liner notes for “Love Is The Answer,” Streisand mentions some of the songs — “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” and “Here’s That Rainy Day,” for instance — for which this project was perfect. And she’s so right. But she also works wonders with “Make Someone Happy,” from which the album’s title is drawn, Luis Bonfá’s “Gentle Rain” (sung in English) and Jacques Brel’s “If You Go Away (Ne Me Quitte Pas)” (sung in French and English). And there’s the heartbreaking drama of “Where Do You Start?” and “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” All of these tracks get sumptuous orchestral arrangements, but to get the full, raw impact of the material, I strongly suggest the essential second disc of “quartet arrangements.”

While I wholeheartedly recommend the Madonna anthology, I have quibbles, beginning with the set not being chronological. How hard can it be to put the songs in order of release dates?

With the exception of one song, Madonna’s first hits disc, “The Immaculate Collection,” is represented in full on “Celebration.” But her second hits package, “GHV2,” which covered the Madonna of the 1990s, gets the short shrift. In terms of movie music, someone saw fit to include “Beautiful Stranger” from “Austin Powers” and “Die Another Day” from the James Bond flick of the same name, but excluded “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” (and, thankfully, “American Pie” from “The Next Best Thing”). And why replace “Deeper and Deeper” and “What It Feels Like For A Girl” with “Sorry” and “Miles Away”?

In terms of the new material, the suitably named Paul Oakenfold titular track collaboration lives up to its moniker, while the Li’l Wayne collaboration “Revolver” doesn’t go anywhere. That said, “Celebration” serves its purpose of representing Madonna’s recording career, her far-reaching influence and her substantial contribution.

Usually, I’m the first to complain about Mariah Carey’s unnecessary and obnoxious vocal gymnastics. She’s no Whitney — and neither is Whitney these days. But after slogging through “Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel” (Island), Carey’s latest exercise in shameless excess, I was relieved to land on the closing track, a remake of the Foreigner classic “I Want to Know What Love Is.” Sure, it’s as schlocky and schmaltzy as it gets, but Carey is actually singing a song with a melody and lyrics that have some degree of substance.

Carey treats the material with as much respect as she can muster and it pays off. There’s much substance to be found on what precedes it, including “Up Out My Face,” “Candy Bling,” “Standing O” and “H.AT.E. U.” But someone in Carey’s camp must be aware of her following in the gay community, which explains the bonus disc of four dance remixes of the “Obsessed” track. The disc also includes the “Obsessed” video and “video-remix.”

As for the boring and redundant sound of the 17-track disc itself, the blame lays squarely with “producers” and “songwriters” C. “Tricky” Stewart and Terius “The-Dream” Nash. “Kindly take your quotation marks and go away.”