"I've been doing a lot of thinking/about growing older and moving on..." So sings Carly Simon on "Life is Eternal," a track from her 1990 release, "Have You Seen Me Lately?" Had this song been first on the record, it would have provided an accurate preview of what was to come: on this record Carly concentrates on life issues just as much as she ponderes matters of the heart. Age and growing older is a common theme, and proves to give Carly plenty of elbow room for her always mature and thoughtful writing.
The aformentioned "Life is Eternal" proclaims "Life is eternal, love is immortal, and death is only a horizon," giving a bright ray of hope to the fact that we have no idea what lies ahead on the other side, next life, or wherever your own personal beliefs leave you. The bittersweet "Happy Birthday" focuses on the importance of growing old in numbers only; as the song's subjects celebrate a birthday the preconceptions of how to live life as an adult are clearly taking more of a toll than the years themselves. That isn't to say age doesn't bring responsibility, however, as is explored on the dark and moving "Waiting at the Gate," as Carly picks up a friend/sibling out of rehab. "You used to set the world on fire/dancing in the dark/now you play solitaire in a fenced-in park," Carly sings, as she bravely and compassionately stands by a loved one even though his youthful indulgences were not her own.
Such material is darker than your usual Carly Simon fare (both musically and lyrically), which makes them all the more striking. There's still plenty of room for the facts of love, though..."Don't Wrap it Up" is a sunny tune about a mature woman taking love on her own terms; "Didn't I?" asks for validation amidst a romantic demise; and "Better Not Tell Her," one of the strongest cuts, asks for discretion in the best interest of her estranged lover. When Carly sings, "If my name comes up...leave out the white nights/the moon in your window/the promises after," it's easy to recall the heroine in Simon's "We Have No Secrets," from her 1975 album "No Secrets," who found out the hard way that honesty sometimes tells you more than you want to know. On "Better Not Tell Her" the shoe's on the other foot and Simon uses life experience to try to spare everyone involved; including herself apparently, as the songs last line is "I still love you." This is easily one of the most mature and complex takes on modern relationships ever put on a rock record.
The album's only misstep is the lukewarm "That's Not Like Him," a song telling of a lover's unfaithfulness. The in-denial lyrics are clever enough, but it's musically not as memorable as what Simon is capable of, and the obviously-programmed percussion is clunky. Miles ahead stylistically is "Fisherman's Song," a track that takes Carly's poetic, colorful lyrics to a new height and boasts a cameo by Judy Collins.
The album closes with "We Just Got Here," another exploration of age; herein Simon claims that life is indeed going by too fast. As the song's subjects "bleed the pipes and bring in the plants" at the end of another summer, they brave themselves for autumn in a lifetime's sense. Here Simon sums up the album saying that the weather may be cold ahead but with loved ones to support you and help recall fond memories, some of the best years of your life may be yet to come. A more powerful experience than a casual listen to this record may give hint to, "Have You Seen Me Lately?" shows Carly Simon in the prime of her life and her art. And we the listeners are lucky observers of the journey.