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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Carpenters: As Time Goes By


1) Without A Song; 2) Superstar / Rainy Days And Mondays; 3) Nowhere Man; 4) I Got Rhythm Medley; 5) Dancing In The Street; 6) Dizzy Fingers; 7) You're Just In Love; 8) Karen / Ella Medley; 9) Close Encounters / Star Wars; 10) Leave Yesterday Behind; 11) Carpenters / Como Medley; 12) California Dreamin'; 13) The Rainbow Con­nection; 14) Hits Medley '76; 15) And When He Smiles.

Still another decade goes by, and just so that the world could be reminded, at the start of a brand new millennium, that Carpenter rule is not quite over yet, Richard is scraping together some more odds and ends from all over the place — going as far back as 1967, with a 17-year old Karen singing on a piano-and-harmonica demo version of ʽNowhere Manʼ and showing how much of a penchant they had for turning Beatlish pop-rock into easy listening material from the very start. Actually, it is one of the more endearing numbers on this collection.

In a way, this is far more listenable than Lovelines in general, because very few of the songs are truly «new»: for the most part, these are alternate takes, demos, and TV show versions of the siblings' big hits, and that is far more enjoyable than listening to subpar material they recorded in the late Seventies. So there are at least three medleys from the Carpenters' TV Special and the Perry Como Christmas Show, and as sickening as the concept of a medley can be, I'd rather listen to a brief snippet of ʽSuperstarʼ trickling into a brief snippet of ʽRainy Days And Mondaysʼ than... then again, the obvious question is what exactly these new versions bring to the table, and the obvious answer is — a desire to go on YouTube and browse for old videos of the Carpenters' TV Special, because the sight of Karen singing these versions is the only reason why anybody should bother with them in the first place.

Anyway, here is a brief rundown of the most curious stuff on this release. First, a few tunes off Music, Music, Music, the duo's 1980 program for ABC TV: there's a Gershwin medley (Karen is not at all bad on ʽI Got Rhythmʼ), a highly impressive, quasi-virtuoso performance of ʽDizzy Fingersʼ by Richard (who actually had great playing technique — but preferred to keep it low-key on studio recordings), and another medley of oldies where Karen alternates with none other than Ella Fitzgerald herself — Ella is already way past her prime, but holds her own ground very well, plus, well, it is Karen who was really dying at the time, not Ella. Second, the old demos — be­sides ʽNowhere Manʼ, there's also ʽCalifornia Dreamin'ʼ, both of them sung with great under­standing (unfortunately, Richard just felt he had to tamper with the old demos and load them with extra string arrangements and whatnot). Third, just a couple of previously unavailable numbers, such as Kermit the Frog's ʽRainbow Connectionʼ — not sure if Karen is much of an improvement over Kermit, but she is at least an improvement on Debbie Harry...

Anyway, despite Richard's useless overdubs, and despite the totally unnecessary inclusion of a ʽClose Encounters / Star Warsʼ medley from their Space Encounters special, this rag-taggy collection remains listenable; however, I do believe that casual listeners have absolutely no use for it, while dedicated fans will probably despise it for all the tampering — indeed, why not re­lease something a more systematic instead, like a proper collection of untampered demos, or at least a proper soundtrack from one or more of the TV shows, preferably in correct chronological order? As it is, the result is simply a mess, and if this happens to be the last archival issue released in Richard's lifetime, it would be fairly ignominious.

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