CAROLE KING: PEARLS: SONGS OF GOFFIN AND KING (1980)
1) Dancin' With Tears In My Eyes; 2) Locomotion; 3) One Fine Day; 4) Hey Girl; 5) Snow Queen; 6) Chains; 7) Oh No Not My Baby; 8) Hi De Ho; 9) Wasn't Born To Follow; 10) Goin' Back.
Behold, this is a wonderful record — ten amazing songs with nary a single moment of filler, probably the single most consistent and potentially mind-blowing new album produced by Carole since Tapestry, and, in fact, the consolidated power of these songs might even outweigh the collective power of Tapestry. There is a catch, though, and it will be quickly understood with a single glance at the track listing: most of these songs are re-recordings of old classics, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin in the Sixties for other artists. In other words, a desperate last-minute scramble for a commercial resuscitation — an implicit admittance of the fact that Carole has all but run out of songwriting stamina, and has no other choice but to resort to the cheap trick that forever brands the artist as a «washed-up has-been».
It does serve as an impressive testament to the immeasurable former powers of the Goffin/King duo — after two major flops in a row, Pearls made it all the way up to No. 44, and gave Carole her last success of any importance on the singles chart (in the form of ʽOne Fine Dayʼ, formerly recorded by The Chiffons). Considering that Brill Building material was about as far removed from the trends and fashions of 1980 as Renaissance music, it just goes to show how the best-of-the-best of commercial pop music is capable of transcending all chronological borders — not to mention that it is actually a very nice experience to hear Carole King sing her own song with her own charismatic voice. But ultimately it is still a one-time experience that belongs in 1980, and nothing can alter the status of The Chiffons' version as forever set in stone.
There are almost no attempts here to make the songs significantly different from what they were in the first place — on the contrary, the intention is to capture the original vibe as best as possible, to ensure that nothing gets lost in the attempt to gain something else. ʽLocomotionʼ twists with the same verve as in the Little Eva version; ʽChainsʼ has the same youthful perkiness as the Cookies version (maybe even a bit more, what with the sped-up tempo and an accappella take on the first chorus); ʽHi-De-Hoʼ has the same pleasant, lazy, nonchalant attitude as the Blood, Sweat & Tears version; and ʽWasn't Born To Followʼ, with a loud and proud banjo in the lead, has the same mix of earthiness and romanticism as it has in The Byrds' interpretation.
A few of the included songs merit this more than others because their original incarnations may have faded out of memory — ʽHey Girlʼ, for instance, was the only big hit for Freddie Scott; and the stuttering waltz ʽSnow Queenʼ, originally released by Carole for her long-forgotten «The City» project in 1968, is also encountered rather unfrequently, although it is more of an introspective and atmospheric tune than a catchy pop hit in essence. And if I understand this correctly, ʽDancing With Tears In My Eyesʼ, opening the album, is actually a new song by the two — an interesting one at that, incorporating bits of disco into what is essentially a very traditionally-oriented R&B number and showing that there were at least a few tiny sparks of songwriting left, though not enough to kindle a proper fire. On the other hand, while I totally understand the logic of closing the album with a rendition of ʽGoin' Backʼ ("I think I'm goin' back to the things I learned so well in my youth" — why, sure you are!), I do have to remind everybody that Carole had already recorded this song on her first proper solo album, so it's a bit of overkill.
Anyway, an official thumbs up for this album is impossible — it isn't even live, and nostalgic / customer-baiting re-recordings of classics without at least a reinterpretation angle are the equivalent of thriving on cheat sheets. The best thing I can say is that the arrangements and the production are tasteful, and that Carole sounds as if she was having real fun with the idea, rather than just lifelessly sitting it out because somebody else hoisted it on her. But even strict completists should probably first ensure that they have all the originals in their collections before moving on to this palliative record.