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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Carpenters: Carpenters


1) Rainy Days And Mondays; 2) Saturday; 3) Let Me Be The One; 4) (A Place To) Hideaway; 5) For All We Know; 6) Superstar; 7) Druscilla Penny; 8) One Love; 9) Bacharach/David Medley; 10) Sometimes.

By now, it is hardly difficult to predict the final verdict on the Carpenters — with that paradigm in place, the duo was fundamentally incapable of recording a consistently great album, because the goodness or badness of a Carpenters tune essentially depends on the degree of Karen's in­volvement in it, and it is unreasonable to expect 100% involvement all over the place. Yet it is also true that almost every Carpenters album would go on to feature at least one or two fantastic atmospheric masterpieces, shallow on the surface but infused with a certain disturbing darkness that seems to undermine those very «family-oriented values» they seem to promote.

For the self-titled Carpenters, these masterpieces are fairly obvious. There's ʽRainy Days And Mondaysʼ, another perfect offering from the Nichols/Williams songwriting team and even more double-edged than ʽWe've Only Just Begunʼ. The verses are poised for an intense build-up, and Karen does a great job going from a deep, dark and brooding start to an expressive, lilting finish. The middle-eight, offering the protagonist a happy cop-out ("funny but it seems that it's the only thing to do / run and find the one who loves me"), seems Hollywoodish on paper, but Karen's talents allow her to do this in «dignified consolation» mode, so that she always seems a bit con­tent in her melancholic brooding, and always a bit unhappy in her romantic gushing. It does not hurt, either, that each verse forms a nice catchy pattern, and that the "rainy days and mondays always get me down" bit is brilliant phrasing all by itself.

The second single was Leon Russell's ʽSuperstarʼ, which had earlier been tried by Delaney & Bonnie, Joe Cocker / Rita Coolidge, and Bette Midler, but did not reach iconic status until Richard nicked it for Karen. His arrangement of the "don't you remember you told me you loved me baby..." chorus is nothing particularly special, and his decision to amend the original "sleep with you again" to "be with you again" warrants a good snicker, but the "long ago and oh so far away..." verses literally send chills down my spine. As an experiment, it is instructive to listen to Rita Coolidge and Karen back-to-back — the first version is all about power and passion, but Karen's is all about bearing the curse of doom. Quiet, deep, mournful, with full emphasis on realistic suffering rather than theatrical technique. Upon hearing ʽSuperstarʼ, it becomes obvious that this sort of tragically soulful material was the perfect choice for Karen; unfortunately, it just wasn't the kind of material to keep on keeping stereotypical «housewives» (and Richard Nixon) happy, and so what we get in addition is...

..."Saturday began just the same as other days... love is in my world since Saturday... sing to the sounds of the day after Friday"... well, you get the drift (hello from the past, Rebecca Black!). This piece of vaudeville fluff, cooed by Richard, is at least short and inoffensive; far worse is ʽDruscilla Pennyʼ, another (in addition to ʽSuperstarʼ) song about a groupie, but this time just a piece of corny mockery, not even saved by being set to a baroque harpsichord melody — and could somebody please explain to me why Richard is lisping on the verses? "I've theen your fathe at leatht a thouthand timeth..." — did somebody smack him in the chops on the day of recording or something? In any case, it results in making an already dumb song sound even more embar­rassing, and its positioning immediately after ʽSuperstarʼ is one of the greatest incentives ever to divorce the amazing sister from the shameful brother (which, I admit, is not entirely just, seeing as how in so many cases Richard's arrangements worked perfectly for Karen).

Anyway, so as not to pin all the bad stuff on Richard, the only really good song on the album other than the big two is ʽLet Me Be The Oneʼ, another offering by Nichols and Williams; and this one is more due to the catchy chorus than any profound psychologism in Karen's perfor­mance. ʽHideawayʼ and ʽFor All We Knowʼ are mushy Euroballads that do not do justice to her voice; Richard's ʽOne Loveʼ is a bit more ambitious, featuring echoes of Brian Wilson in the vocal melody, but somehow still firmly lodged in the rosey my-prince-will-come paradigm; and then there's a five minute Bacharach/David medley that truly deserves no comment other than KILL IT WITH FIRE. Gosh, what a disgrace.

I would not hesitate giving the record a thumbs down if it wasn't for the obvious — on a certain level, all Carpenters albums deserve a thumbs down, so let us keep this option in stock for those records that do not have a smash duo of the ʽRainy Days And Mondaysʼ / ʽSuperstarʼ caliber to redeem it. From an optimistically benevolent perspective, this was a period in which Karen Car­penter was capable of jaw-dropping greatness and occasionally demonstrated it; history will chew over the rest without a blue-type verdict on my part.


  1. Superstar might be very well performed by Karen, but it still has annoying backing vocals and a cheesy horn section. Same with Rainy Days.

  2. I had no idea you hated Bacharach / David compositions that much, George - I would've thought with how well-written (those melodies!) they were you would've at least appreciated them (if not outright enjoyed them...)!

  3. Yeah, it is pretty weird. They veer to the cheesy, it's true, but damn do they pump out some well written melodies.

    1. well written melodies

      Not written by them. Written by hired guns.

    2. Sorry, I was referring to H. Eliot about Bacharach/ David, not the Carpenters.

  4. "could somebody please explain to me why Richard is lisping on the verses?"
    Well, he lisps on all the songs he sings. He must have had an impediment. I've gotta admit, I do like his baritone, and his tone and timbre are pleasant enough, but that lithp ruins thit for me every thime. Maybe if he went for a rougher, more organic sound, he could actually make it work.

    "Upon hearing ʽSuperstarʼ, it becomes obvious that this sort of tragically soulful material was the perfect choice for Karen" The clincher is how she can somehow make the banal refrain "Baby Baby Baby Oh Baby, I love you, I really do" sound so tragic and sad. She really sounds like she's so devastated she can't help but repeat it over and over. That takes some guts. And balls. TTY, Bieber.

    "far worse is ʽDruscilla Pennyʼ, another (in addition to ʽSuperstarʼ) song about a groupie," Is it not ironic that both reference guitars and rock n' roll and yet they feature neither? Thothe damned kidsth and their dithpicable devil muthic!!!