CAROLE KING: WRAP AROUND JOY (1974)
1) Nightingale; 2) Change In Mind, Change Of Heart; 3) Jazzman; 4) You Go Your Way, I'll Go Mine; 5) You're Something New; 6) We Are All In This Together; 7) Wrap Around Joy; 8) You Gentle Me; 9) My Lovin' Eyes; 10) Sweet Adonis; 11) A Night This Side Of Dying; 12) The Best Is Yet To Come.
Here it is, the album that Rhymes & Reasons should have really been if Carole hadn't suddenly felt the need to wrap around pure mellowness instead of joy...ful pop hooks. With the relative failure of Fantasy (or, more accurately, with the world's refusal to acknowledge her as a bona fide progressive artist), she returns here to the simpler pop song format, as well as (temporarily) abandons her lyrical ambitions — all the words here are credited to David Palmer, the original singer of Steely Dan. (Some people use this as a criticism, but who really listens to Carole King songs for the words? It's usually enough to just get a general message of what the song is about, and that's that — I like the tone of something like ʽBeautifulʼ far more than the actual words of ʽBeautifulʼ, which are just an ordinary form of bedroom psychotherapy).
The difference is that there's more upbeat and truly joyful (rather than melancholic) stuff; the songs, on the whole, are better written, with more sharply delineated and emotionally filled choruses, and although even the best of these tunes cannot stand comparison with Tapestry (maybe because this album is just a bit too happy in comparison?), almost everything is memorable in one way or another, not to mention endearing as usual. Basically, if you are looking for a very straightforward, very romantic and peaceful, but still very well-written, album of Carole King songs, Wrap Around Joy is precisely what you should be doing.
The big hit was ʽJazzmanʼ, an ode to saxophonist Curtis Amy, predictably replete with lengthy sax solos itself (from notorious sax player Tom Scott) and therefore blending well into the epoch (it might not be a coincidence that Lennon's ʽWhatever Gets You Thru The Nightʼ, also heavily dependent on blaring saxes, rose to #1 in the same year — actually, in the exact same month, November '74, as Carol's song hit #2). It's catchy, joyful, uplifting, and almost becomes proto-disco in the chorus without losing that typically C. K. warmth, even if there's no particular depth to the message. Even better, though a little less successful on the charts, was ʽNightingaleʼ, a tight piece of soft funk with a really beautiful chorus of friendly melancholia and an inventive arrangement (there's an odd recorder-like — nightingale-like? — lead part throughout the song that adds an odd spirit of pastoral peacefulness to the tune).
But even apart from the hits, there's plenty of goodies in store. The title track, for instance, with its stuttering rhythmics, honky-tonk piano, and over-joyful harmonies, is the closest she'd ever come to «pub pop» at the time, with intentional musical similarities to ʽRock'n'Roll Fever & The Boogie Woogie Fluʼ — and the chorus, expectedly, is all but impossible to get out of your head. Perhaps it is more of a musical joke for her, like ʽSmackwater Jackʼ, but so much the better. ʽSweet Adonisʼ explores the good news theme from a power-pop side, while ʽMy Lovin' Eyesʼ is more in the soul/R&B vein, but both songs have melodic twists in the lead vocal part that remind you of Carole King's genius far more efficiently than anything from the previous two albums. Even the slower ballads do the job — ʽYou Go Your Way, I'll Go Mineʼ (nothing to do with the similarly titled Dylan song) is a really sharp-edged song about separation, where the verses convey desperation (I shiver every time she raises her voice on the "with sharp and angry lies..." line, with all the determination of a sentenced prisoner speaking her last piece) and the chorus, with an abrupt "well all right!", pushes the song into a more self-assertive direction; and even though ʽChange In Mind, Change In Heartʼ «wastes» four and a half minutes on a single vocal hook, it still makes sense to wait for it; it's a really touching ode to mutual tolerance and reconciliation, and the «mind / heart» dilemma is handled in quite a special way.
Of course, none of this should efface the fact that the record is stylistically monotonous and emotionally simplistic — despite sharing its occasional moments of subtle sadness, it's largely a very happy album, as suggested by its title, reflecting a fairly peaceful period in Carole's life (she wouldn't be divorcing Larkey until 1976), and, like all very happy records, will never be as exciting and stimulating as albums about pain and suffering. But there's enough intelligence and simple, tasteful beauty behind the proverbial shine and gloss, and I dare say that with a more inventive approach to arrangement and production, Wrap Around Joy could have easily become and remained a critical favorite. As it is, it merely returned Carole to commercial success for a brief while, but that, too, was a pretty happy happening for 1974. Thumbs up.