Why does everyone hate this album? On more lists than I can count, it's been included as one of the worst records of all time, the most annoying records of the 90's, the top guilty pleasures of all time...but that last one is very telling, I think. Despite its intentions to expose the Carpenters' work to a modern (1990's alt-rock) audience, this record has always been notoriously unhip, and no one wanted to cop to owning or enjoying it, despite the fact that many did, and still do. Well, I have no such qualms.
As tribute albums go, this is one of the better ones available. It's not perfect; some of the artists play it a little too straight, and deliver performances that are more-or-less indistinguishable from the Carpenters' recordings, such as the Cranberries and Grant Lee Buffalo, but most take a left-field route and really take the time to focus on a new angle to the composition. American Music Club and Cracker both deliver overly moody, downcast renditions of "Goodbye to Love" and "Rainy Days and Mondays", respectively, with a completely different kind of poignancy than what Richard and Karen delivered. Sonic Youth (with "Superstar"), Shonen Knife (with "Top of the World") and Redd Kross (with "Yesterday Once More") transform their songs into rockers specifically suited for their individual styles. And even Sheryl Crow turns in a good recording of "Solitaire", reinterpreting the tune as one of the endless pleading, countrified rock songs that she takes to the bank on a regular basis.
There are other misses as well: Dishwalla turn "It's Going to Take Some Time" into a typically bad Dishwalla song, and while Johnette Napolitano and Marc Moreland's version of "Hurting Each Other" seems to be moving in the right direction, the end result is atonal and kind of an endurance test. But the pros far outweigh the cons on this album: 4 Non Blondes' bombastic version of "Bless the Beasts and Children", Bettie Serveert's fried electric take on "For All We Know", and more. So if you've seen this disc haunting the used CD bin for $1.99, go buy it on a day when your friends aren't around, ignore the creepy album cover with the cartoon Carpenters glaring at you, and enjoy. Possibly the best thing about this record is that the performances are so different, yet so respectful to the Carpenters' versions, that you'll want to go out and rediscover their recordings as well. Win win.