October 19, 1998 12:00 PM

Bette Midler (Warner Bros.)

The title of Midler’s 17th album promises delight, alluding as it does to her early ’70s incarnation as the Divine Miss M, the vampy, campy and bawdacious singer who entertained at the Continental Baths, then one of New York City’s gay men’s clubs. And so the sentimental, string-soaked opening track “Song of Bernadette” seems more reminiscent of her late-’80s Grammy-winning doppelgänger (“Wind Beneath My Wings”), and out of place here. A windy ode that shows off her gorgeous voice but not a jot of her humor, the song would have been better left to Celine Dion. But Midler redeems herself on “I’m Beautiful,” in which her old, Divine Miss M persona returns, hawking her own “cosmic fabulosity,” and she keeps up her Mae-West-meets-the-Andrews-Sisters schtick with songs like “Ukulele Lady,” “I’m Hip” and “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show.” But Midler has more than gags and good humor to sell. “Lullaby in Blue,” a mother’s bittersweet song for a daughter long ago put up for adoption, is beautiful and heartrending.

Bottom Line: One lame track but otherwise divine

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