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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Carole King: Welcome Home

CAROLE KING: WELCOME HOME (1978)

1) Main Street Saturday Night; 2) Sun Bird; 3) Venusian Diamond; 4) Changes; 5) Morning Sun; 6) Disco Tech; 7) Wings Of Love; 8) Ride The Music; 9) Everybody's Got The Spirit; 10) Welcome Home.

Okay, now this is an album that can hardly be saved by even the most objective and unprejudiced analysis. Even if it was produced by pretty much the same team (including the same couple of guitarists, although husband Rick Evers is only credited for cowbell this time — given his drug problems, this somehow does not look surprising), Welcome Home seems to take everything about Simple Things that was problematic (weak hooks, banal lyrics, generally unimaginative arrangements), discard everything that was good (such as classy guitar solos and progressive ambition on songs like ʽOneʼ), and throw in a few additional problems — most importantly, copycatting, as Carole now seems almost resigned to «follow where you lead», even if that makes her sound like a laughable third-rate imitator at times.

Clearly the greatest embarrassment, and one of the worst ever experiences in King's catalog, is ʽDisco Techʼ — the title alone should be enough to die on the spot from an overdose of bad taste, but, yes indeed, this is Carole King going disco, heavily laying on all the clichés of the genre. Considering that Carole King and funk are about as compatible as Shostakovich and hip-hop, lyrics with lines like "rhythm is our way of communication, you won't ever want to take a vaca­tion" (Mike Love, eat your heart out!), and especially "Disco Tech — let me be your teacher!" (no thank you), simply point out the sad fact that, as generally lovable and talented Carole King is as a human being and an artist, she is a bit lacking in the basic intelligence department: even in the sweaty disco climate of 1978, with everybody losing their heads and all, this song could not pass even the lower rungs of the quality test for Whiteboy (Whitegirl) Disco Fodder.

And, unfortunately, that ain't all. On a less overtly embarrassing, but still highly disappointing note, a song like ʽEverybody's Got The Spiritʼ seems clearly copped from Fleet­wood Mac's ʽDon't Stopʼ, from the basic rhythm pattern to the fade-in build-up of the introduction to the friendly anthemic chorus — except that it is much weaker in every respect, be it the lyrics, the thin arrangement, the lack of energy, and a complete misunderstanding of the ascending melodic pattern that made ʽDon't Stopʼ so great, as it captured the listener's spirit and pulled it upwards along the melodic stairway. In the place of the invigorating "don't stop thinking about tomorrow", we here have "everybody's got the spirit, yeah you know what I mean" (do we?), delivered in such a way that it seems clear that the only person who's really got the spirit is Carole herself, and even she might be just faking it, too.

Other «highlights» include ʽVenusian Diamondʼ, an oddly «psychedelic» song with Vocoder-treated vocals, circa-1966-Beatles vocal harmonies, two sections that make a transition from slow, lazy, Lennonesque psychedelia to bouncy McCartney-style pop, and sitars a-plenty — the best thing about the song is that it at least does not try to adapt to contemporary trends, and is not as openly annoying as the previously listed two, but it does show that retro psychedelia is no more Carole's forte as is disco music; and two ballad collaborations with Rick Evers — ʽSun Birdʼ (is this, too, inspired by Fleetwood Mac's ʽSongbirdʼ, by any chance?) and ʽWings Of Loveʼ, featuring some of the most inane lyrics of Carole's entire career ("You fill me with love I can give / You fill me with life I can live / You fill me with song I can sing / And truth that makes the kingdom ring" — did they make a journey through time to the 21st century to have a computer write that for them?).

Ultimately, the only song here that rises half an inch above mediocrity would be the album opener ʽMain Street Saturday Nightʼ, a simple pop-rocker with the only example of good lead guitar work on the album and a tiny bit of vocal grit that sounds authentic. Other than that, just about everything is a heavy letdown, and it honestly seems that with Simple Things, Carole was on a positive roll, but less than one year later, she was once again in full turbulence, probably more busy with her (once again) deteriorating family life than with making good music: unlike the aforementioned Fleetwood Mac, who could find artistic inspiration in their troubles by pulling them out in public and perversely feasting on them, Carole always seemed to value her social role of Good Mood Muse, stubbornly stuffing her problems inside of her or only vaguely hinting at them in the good-time melodies she wrote — and with Welcome Home, it feels quite strongly that she is not being honest with us at all, producing insincere, underwritten fodder with no direc­tion whatsoever. Is it any wonder, then, that where Simple Things still went to No. 17 on the charts, Welcome Home did not even make it into the top hundred? No wonder at all. At least with such weak records as Rhymes & Reasons and Thoroughbred, we could hardly doubt the sincerity of the writer's motives: Welcome Home is the first genuinely rotten artifact in the writer's history, reason enough for a rather vicious thumbs down.

1 comment:

  1. "about as compatible as Shostakovich and hip-hop"

    Not sure, but considering Shostakovich's lifelong interest in popular music genres, he may have had fun with hip-hop had he lived that long... :)

    ReplyDelete