CAROLE KING: TAPESTRY (1971)
1) I Feel The Earth Move; 2) So Far Away; 3) It's Too Late; 4) Home Again; 5) Beautiful; 6) Way Over Yonder; 7) You've Got A Friend; 8) Where You Lead; 9) Will You Love Me Tomorrow; 10) Smackwater Jack; 11) Tapestry; 12) (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.
I think that ʽI Feel The Earth Moveʼ is probably the single greatest Carole King song in existence. Inarguably, it is her most rocking tune — for all the softness of the arrangement, it rocks really, really hard: the syncopated piano/bass rhythm creates unbelievably strong tension, usually reserved for songs that tell stories about how bad it all goes, rather than declarations of sincere passion. It's one of those "love is a drug and I need to score" moments, even if Carole herself might not necessarily mean it that way, but from the opening chords and through all the instrumental breaks it sounds like she's crying for help — "I just lose control, down to my very soul" should at the very least be addressed to a psychiatrist, if not a police officer. The only «tender» part of the song is the "oh darling, when you're near me..." bridge, but it offers merely a few brief moments of relaxed tenderness before the shivers start again. (There's a somewhat similar function of the bridge section in ʽWhile My Guitar Gently Weepsʼ, I think). The similarity between the wobbling rhythm and an actual earthquake has been commented upon plenty — but what is really thrilling is this equation of loving feeling with a panic attack, always a refreshing way to revisit the age-old subject.
And that is just the first song on what is unquestionably Carole King's masterpiece — like I said, reducing all of Carole King to Tapestry is humiliating, yet there is no question that this record and no other has (a) the highest concentration of unbeatable pop hooks and (b) some of the grittiest, least cliched-sentimental moments in C. K. history. Every song here is at least good, most of them are great, and the lady really shows those mushy singer-songwriters the gold standard, although few of them ever came close — James Taylor and Carly Simon only wish they could have even one LP as consistent as Tapestry. In part, this is due to Carole still milking her backlog (ʽNatural Womanʼ, ʽWill You Love Me Tomorrowʼ), but this time, more than half of the songs are newly written, and they still show the songwriter at the top of her game.
At least James Taylor is said to have been the reason for ʽIt's Too Lateʼ, written after Carole's breakup with the fellow (she still got a friend, but something inside has died anyway). The song eventually overtook ʽI Feel The Earth Moveʼ in radio popularity, possibly because its emotional scope is simpler and more easily understandable, but «simpler», in this case, means «even more sincere»: it's a good example of the Big Breakup Song that, instead of blowing the sad aspects of what's happened up to ridiculously disproportional heights, simply puts an equation sign between the tragic and the mundane. The verses are quiet, introspective Latin jazz with one small drop of melancholia — the chorus is uptempo pop that says it like it is ("something inside has died" is delivered as if the "something inside" were a dead gerbil), but leaves the melancholia droplet in the chord change on the "I can't hide and I just can't fake it" bit. It's a quiet, dignified farewell where the protagonist bares just a tiny spot of emotion, and your imagination does the rest.
The album is not «conceptual» as such, but its title, and the first line of the title track — "my life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue" — is quite telling, because it has such a wide emotional spectrum. Optimism here, pessimism there, love confession on the right, breakup lament on the left — selfless sacrificial devotion of ʽWhere You Leadʼ replaced with the tormenting self-doubt of ʽWill You Love Me Tomorrowʼ, anguish and desperation of ʽHome Againʼ adjacent to the martial optimism of ʽBeautifulʼ; and in the middle of it all, just so you don't end up bored with all the love songs, comes an Elton John-ian (think Tumbleweed Connection) joke-pop-epic ʽSmackwater Jackʼ that advocates for gun control, justice, and lynch mobs in the most upbeat manner possible (Carole King was never much about American history or politics, which is probably why I find it so fun when she writes a song on one of these subjects). Anyway, the best thing about all these changing moods is how it all rings true — the melodies, the arrangements (heavy on piano and guitars, very moderate on strings), and especially the voice, technically flawed in any genre but capable of expression in any of them, be it folk, pop, gospel, or rock.
At the end of it all, the little woman experiences such a leap of confidence that she even sets out to reclaim ʽ(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Womanʼ from the clutches of Aretha — and in a way, she is better suited to sing the song than Aretha ever was: Aretha sang it like a powerhouse, which was somewhat at odds with the decidedly «anti-feminist» nature of the song — Carole sings it the way she originally intended, a song of... well, let's be kind and say of gratitude (not of submission, much as any militant feminist would probably like to condemn lines like "if I make you happy I don't need to do more"), and it also fits in well with the similar message of ʽWhere You Leadʼ. Both takes are classic, but the readings are very different, and my personal preferences lie with Carole's (the same way I usually prefer Dylan's originals over covers that are more elaborate technically, but may easily miss all the ambiguous subtleties).
It's all a kind of sonic magic, of course — if I ever saw "you got to get up every morning with a smile on your face and show the world all the love in your heart" linked to in a Facebook post, I'd be hitting the Unfollow option faster than you could share, but when I hear it sung at the beginning of ʽBeautifulʼ, I can't actually help smiling: I mean, I might be doomed forever already, but here's a person that clearly believes what she sings, and even if she does not precisely practice what she preaches, the strong determination in this song — coming from such an obviously weak body — is admirable. As is, well, just about everything about this record, including even its front cover: fat tabby cats (especially when they're called Telemachus, adding either a Homeric or a Joycian note to the proceedings, you choose) agree very nicely with sweaters, bare feet, self-stitched tapestries, and showing the world all the love in your heart. Thumbs up.