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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Carpenters: Voice Of The Heart


1) Now; 2) Sailing On The Tide; 3) You're Enough; 4) Make Believe It's Your First Time; 5) Two Lives; 6) At The End Of A Song; 7) Ordinary Fool; 8) Prime Time Love; 9) Your Baby Doesn't Love You Anymore; 10) Look To Your Dreams.

As is usual in such cases, this album, first and foremost, provides you with an awesome opportu­nity to waste time in trying to make a choice — did Richard Carpenter release this (and all the following) Carpenters albums to cash in on Karen's unfortunate fate and replenish his own thin­ning pockets, or did Richard Carpenter release this (and all the following) Carpenters albums out of noble loyalty to both Karen and her fans, swearing a solemn oath that not a single note she had ever captured on tape would go to waste? The correct answer, of course, is that when you are Richard Carpenter and capable of combining both at the same time, you'd probably not be able to answer this question correctly yourself.

This review will be short and sweet. Had Voice Of The Heart been released in Karen's lifetime, it would have been dreadful — the entire record is almost nothing but outtakes from various sessions stretched over the 1976-82 period, and since, other than Passage, not a single album they did back then could count among their best, it is easy to imagine what the discarded material should sound like. The only two new songs, recorded during Karen's intense struggles with her illness (but, fortunately, she was able not to show this to the microphone), are ʽYou're Enoughʼ, which begins suspiciously like a slowed down version of ʽClose To Youʼ, but then turns into something far more bland and rose-colored; and ʽNowʼ, her last ever recording, the best thing about which is how fine she could still sound until almost the very end — otherwise, it's just generic easy listening pablum, like balladeering ABBA but without the terrific hooks.

There is exactly one song here that I would tentatively single out: ʽTwo Livesʼ, a 1977 single by Bonnie Raitt (written by Mark Jordan) about which I wrote, back when I was reviewing Bonnie, that «the Carpenters would have made it lovelier», without actually realizing, if you can believe it, that the Carpenters did cover it! — and that they did make it lovelier, because Karen's "but I believe whoever wrote that song, never had a broken heart" is one of the few lines on this album to feature her trademark «noble desperation»; most of the other songs are too drowned in syrup to show any depth or ambiguity, and some are so corny from the outset that no ambiguity could ever save them in the first place ("give yourself a bit of some prime time love" is a particularly strong line given to her by songwriting couple Danny Ironstone and Mary Unobsky who, no doubt, have had their own fair share of prime time, chef-recommended love over the years).

But enough sarcasm: honestly, this is as good a tribute to Karen as Richard probably was able to quickly assemble from the scraps, and as good a cover photo as he could find too, what with that weird «unsmiling smile» on her face. There is a lot of lush balladry here, which means that if you love her voice, you will take it just for all the overtones and all the modulations and all the aura, never mind if the songs themselves suck to high heaven, which they largely do. As a gesture of respect, I will refrain from thumbing it down, because of the special circumstances and the spe­cial destination of the album (to provide the devastated fans with one final goodbye and one final advice to ʽLook To Your Dreamsʼ). But just to show you how terrible I really am, I must confess that I am somewhat relieved about not having to seriously deal with Carpenters in the Eighties, when the wave of synthesizers, electronic drums, and bad hairstyles would have engulfed them with three hundred percent certainty. I only wish we could have such luck without anybody dying: anorexia is not something you'd wish upon anybody, not even Meatloaf.

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