Search This Blog

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Carpenters: Horizon


1) Aurora; 2) Only Yesterday; 3) Desperado; 4) Please Mr. Postman; 5) I Can Dream, Can't It?; 6) Solitaire; 7) Happy; 8) (I'm Caught Between) Goodbye And I Love You; 9) Love Me For What I Am; 10) Eventide.

The decline of the duo's commercial fortune starts here, even though Horizon was still able to yield two huge singles. The biggest one apparently continued the vibe of Now & Then: another lightweight cover of an oldie that, it could be thought, would never again be revived after The Marvelettes and The Beatles had done everything possible with it — still, Karen did the impossible and seduced America, along with the entire English-speaking world, into accepting ʽPlease Mr. Postmanʼ in Sesame Street-style, with a fluffy-feathery arrangement and a vocal part so light, you'd swear she was impersonating a 12-year old. Not that I'm complaining: she seduces me all right, and if you have no strong prejudices about «white» versions of «black» songs (with emphasis on de-sexualization etc., though I wouldn't necessarily call Karen's interpretations of black R&B «de-sexualized»), it will be hard to deny that the whole thing is cutesy and adorable without being too heavily dollified. The sax and guitar solos rule, too.

The lesser hit single was a bit more heavy and serious: a Carpenter/Bettis original, ʽOnly Yes­terdayʼ is a soulful love ballad of the «everything will be all right now that you're here» variety. But unlike many, if not most, of the earlier big hits, ʽOnly Yesterdayʼ has no subtle depth what­soever — its message does not go beyond "baby, baby, feels like maybe", and while the chorus is catchy, it is not original enough to compensate for a certain flatness in Karen's voice, as if she tried, but failed, to find a proper key to it and ended up just delivering the lyrics the best way her voice would allow it. ABBA could do this; Karen functions much better when she does not have to dilute her melancholic mood with fake happiness. And if she does, better do it Sesame Street-style all the way — at least it's more fun that way.

The main problem with Horizon is that most of it sounds like ʽOnly Yesterdayʼ, only worse. The idea of covering the old popular song ʽI Can Dream, Can't I?ʼ (they may have gotten it from Cass Elliot) was rotten from the start, because old midnight jazz standards are among the easiest things to turn into cornball if the singer does not give them a specific angle, and for all her wonderful qualities, Karen is hardly a major competitor for the jazz greats. Then there's the cover of ʽDes­peradoʼ, which is probably better than Linda Ronstadt's — Karen is really working hard here to make you sit up and take those lyrics seriously — but not necessarily better than the original; in any case, your acceptance of this will significantly depend on your general attitude towards The Eagles, and in any case, the Leon Russell covers were better.

The rest is mostly original stuff, and most of the second side of the LP where it is concentrated is a stiff bore. As keeper of the Only Solitaire blog, I'm probably supposed to be partial to any song with ʽSolitaireʼ in the title, but this here ʽSolitaireʼ is slow and dreary — again, I think ABBA could have done a better job with it, perhaps speeding the ballad up a little and giving it a few more distinctive piano riffs, but Richard's arrangement is the epitome of the «nothing happening» approach. With ʽLove Me For What I Amʼ, they apparently try to repeat the successful formula of ʽGoodbye To Loveʼ (because of another climactic distorted and phased solo from Tony Peluso), but the result hardly has even half the energy of its predecessor, and even the solo is super-short. And no semi-respectable Carpenters album should have a song called ʽHappyʼ — because, let's face it, the Carpenters vibe only works when they are not.

Summing up — one cutesy-adorable cover, a couple of passable originals, a couple more unne­cessary covers, and a puddle of filler; no sense of progress whatsoever and plenty of times when the project's chief asset is misused. Even on that album photo, Karen looks like she's not really there, you know? There was simply no great incentive here for the public to renew their love for the siblings, and there is no incentive for me not to give the album a thumbs down. Already in 1975, it must have been clear that the Carpenters were past their peak — and soon they would have to adapt their old-fashioned sound to the rapidly changing musical values, something for which they were far less than ready. 

1 comment:

  1. I am partial to Only Yesterday, but to like it you have to focus on tiny nuances in Karen's voice that set her singing apart. The song itself is rote. It is like any of those examples of great artists working in b genres and one having to become adapt at spotting flashes of individuality that exist under the surface. Like session musicians, comic book writers, b movie producers, book illustrators, pulp writers, it is all uninteresting fare that nevertheless attracted talented people that could transcend or even elevate these genres