3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Worth The Effort,
This review is from: Karen Carpenter (Audio CD)
Like many Carpenters fans I've had this album for years. My first reaction on hearing it was that it wasn't terribly good and I quickly forgot about it, confining my listening to Karen's outings with Richard. However, last year I heard a wonderful, sparse version of 'Make Believe It's Your First Time' on YouTube, saw that it was from this album and decided that to give it another listen. Since then it's been a regular choice on my iPod.
Comparisons with the Carpenters' recordings are inevitable, and while I have to say that this doesn't rank with the Carpenters' career bests, it's an engaging listen and shows a much more diverse range than most of the Carpenters albums. Richard has apparently criticised parts of this album for 'lifting' the Carpenters sound, but since Karen's overdubbed voice was so much of that sound it's naive to assume that the two would be dissimilar. Some commentators have noted that Karen went against his wishes and recorded a disco album, but this isn't really true. There are certainly some disco/soft jazz-influenced tracks (notably 'Lovelines', Guess I Just Lost My Head' and 'Remember When Loving Took All Night'), but the only track that could really be called disco is 'My Body Keeps Changing My Mind', which is a wonderful guilty pleasure, ripe for remixing and extending. However, it's Karen's experimentation with other styles that caught my attention this time round. 'Making Love In The Afternoon' is an AOR-pop gem and with the right marketing could definitely have been a hit for KC. 'Still In Love With You' enters the realm of country rock while 'All Because Of You', also guitar-driven, finds Karen in a more sombre mood. 'Make Believe It's Your First Time' sounds bare compared to the full orchestral Carpenters version, yet this compellingly emphasises the vulnerability of Karen's vocal. As other reviewers have noted however, the crowning glory is the wonderful version of Paul Simon's 'Still Crazy After All These Years'. Also strong is 'If I Had You', a vocal marathon of epic proportions, though I have to admit I prefer Richard's later remix of this track.
While the focus on 'adult' themes is sometimes rather laboured, this album is clearly the work of a gifted artist stretching her artistic wings, and it's a shame it wasn't rewarded with a more immediate release. Like many others I feel it should have been released when it was finished, and I think we'll never really know why it wasn't. Most of the speculation around the album's shelving centres on Richard. It's been suggested that he was jealous, that he was worried that this album would mean the end of the Carpenters. However, this anti-Richard conspirancy theory remains conjecture and doesn't take into account the situation the Carpenters found themselves in at the start of the 80's. In the light of their re-evaluation it's impossible to express now just how completely uncool the Carpenters were at that time. In addition, their previous album, 'Passage', which was in some respects an attempt at experimentation, had only exacerbated a trend of diminishing returns from the mid-70's. Perhaps A&M were unwilling to take another risk on another album that didn't correspond to the tried and tested Carpenters template of their early-70's successes. It's also worth noting that by the time 'Karen Carpenter' was finished the disco backlash was at full force, and critics would have used tracks like 'Lovelines' or 'My Body Keeps Changing My Mind' as an indicator of how far Karen was behind the times. Anyway, its non-release at that time is a moot point and probably should be laid to rest. However, like other reviewers I've heard out-takes from this album, some of which are very high quality, including another Paul Simon cover. I think a deluxe expanded edition of 'Karen Carpenter' would be a great idea, so how about it, A&M/Universal?