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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Carpenters: A Kind Of Hush


1) There's A Kind Of Hush; 2) You; 3) Sandy; 4) Goofus; 5) Can't Smile Without You; 6) I Need To Be In Love; 7) One More Time; 8) Boat To Sail; 9) I Have You; 10) Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.

I really pity poor ex-Domino Jim Gordon who was forced to enlist as session drummer for this album (as well as Horizon) — if you ask me, this is a pretty good explanation of why he went nuts and murdered his mother seven years later. Because A Kind Of Slush is just the kind of archetypal «kill-'em-with-kindness» rose-colored Carpenters album that condemns the duo be­yond all hope of redemption. Not in the very, very slightest does the record ever approach «edgy»; not in the very, very slightest does it touch upon any psychological hotspots. And this time around, there isn't even a single Motown or surf-pop classic to earn the record a few consolatory points in the cutesy-adorable department.

Sure, there's the title track, resurrected from a forgotten sunshine pop single by Herman's Hermits back in 1967, but even if it sounded somewhat anthemic and in (relative) touch with the Flower Power movement at the time, in 1976 it sounded merely like another Sesame Street episode, and Karen's diligent, but not-too-involved delivery of the vocal leaves her no space for flexible modu­lation — any professional lady singer could have done an equally good perfunctory job on it. I actually prefer their take on ʽGoofusʼ, an old pre-war composition briefly popularized by Phil Harris in 1950: with an arrangement slightly reminiscent of Elton John's ʽHonky Catʼ (perhaps not a coincidence, as both songs share similar subjects of country boys moving to the big city), it has fun interplay between honky-tonk piano and sax, and lets Karen put in a slightly humorous performance (as to myself, I always prefer hearing a sincere bit of laughter from her than seeing an obli­gatory forced smile).

Yet even though neither of the two songs is a true classic, I'd rather hear them both on endless repeat than enduring the interminable bland balladeering that constitutes the rest of the album. The biggest hit was ʽI Need To Be In Loveʼ, a song specially written by John Bettis (lyrically) for Karen and allegedly one of her favorites; but again, it sounds like ABBA-lite, a musically trite composition that cannot even properly separate its chorus from its verse, and even if the lyrics genuinely reflect Karen's emotional state at the time ("I know I need to be in love, I know I've wasted too much time"), and even if she tries to deliver them as sincerely and expressively as pos­sible, the song's complete melodic predictability and lack of dynamics render the effort nearly worthless. And that, my friends, is arguably the best of the ballads on here.

Most of the others are like Randy Edelman's ʽYouʼ — slow lush meadows of strings, woodwinds, and angelic backing harmonies (with, perhaps, an occasional guitar solo that does not even begin to try and stand out), rose-colored puffs of fake happiness, indistinguishable from one another and not even trying to adapt to the melancholic overtones of Karen's voice. One after another they drift off into space without leaving a trace, so much so that even ʽGoofusʼ, against their back­ground, produces an effect comparable to that of ʽPlease Please Meʼ in the era of safe, toothless teen pop; although nothing is going to make me positively rate the upbeat conclusion of Neil Sedaka's ʽBreaking Up Is Hard To Doʼ, a song far cornier than ʽThere's A Kind Of Hushʼ and made even worse by the duo's tepid treatment.

According to Richard himself, A Kind Of Hush turned out to be a subpar album because he happened to be addicted to sleeping pills at the time — which probably asks for a bad pun invol­ving the title of the record; ironically, he has named ʽGoofusʼ, the liveliest song on the album, as a particularly harsh disaster, while at the same time calling ʽSandyʼ "a lilting original that is per­fect for Karen's voice". For my money, ʽGoofusʼ is far more «lilting» (though certainly less ori­ginal) than ʽSandyʼ, just another quiet, light jazz-pop ballad about nothing in particular that is perfect for nobody's voice, much as Karen was struggling to make a good job with it — and with everything else on this snoozefest of an album. Guess even inoffensive romantic soft-rockers have to stay away from sleeping pills, though. Definitely a thumbs down — this is clearly the absolute nadir for Carpenters in the 1970s, as they would fortunately get somewhat more adven­turous again on their next album.

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