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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Canned Heat: Kings Of The Boogie


1) Kings Of The Boogie; 2) Stoned Bad Street Fighting Man; 3) So Fine; 4) You Can't Get Close To Me; 5) Hell's Just On Down The Road; 6) I Was Wrong; 7) Little Crystal; 8) Dog House Blues; 9) Sleepy Hollow Baby; 10) Chicken Shack.

Still more lineup changes; by the time they got around to recording this one, The Bear and Fito were still in, and the lead guitar position once again miraculously shifted from Harvey Mandel to The Amazing Disappearing (And Reappearing At Will) Henry Vestine. Unfortunately, an even more serious problem than a quantum-state lead guitar sound struck them this time: before the album was completed, Bob Hite happened to miscalculate his heroin dosage (allegedly, they say he mistook cocaine for heroin), collapsed on stage, and died on April 6, 1981, somewhere in Hollywood; I think he was the last of the Woodstock heroes to have the hand of fate catch up with him in such an ironic manner.

Somehow the band still carried on, though, and the album was completed with three of the recent members contributing vocals where necessary: Ernie Rodriguez on bass, Rick Kellog on harp, and Mike Halby on guitar. There are still plenty of Hite-sung vocal tracks, though, so do not believe them who say that Human Condition was the last Hite-led Canned Heat album: if you have enough love/respect for him as a lead figure, be sure to check out Kings Of The Boogie, because he actually sounds a little more loose here (or maybe it's just better production).

The overall style is not that far removed from Human Condition's, though: basic fast-tempo boogie and generic, but mean-wishing blues-rock constitutes the bulk of it, and where there are exceptions, I'd rather there wasn't any — for instance, the band's cover of Johnny Otis' ʽSo Fineʼ is amazingly stiff and sung without the slightest bit of emotion. Technically, ʽDog House Bluesʼ is also an exception, because it is credited to two members of Devo (and no, it has nothing to do with the Devo outtake ʽDoghouse Doghouseʼ that would surface later from the archives); how­ever, it fits in so naturally with the other blues-rock tracks here that you could never suspect foul play without checking the credits.

Anyway, the best tracks on the album are the fast-paced ones: they close the record with a merry revival of the old Amos Milburn jump blues classic ʽChicken Shackʼ, energized harmonica and guitar solos and all, and open it with their own modern day take on jump blues — the title track probably has the best guitar riff of 'em all, with a nice mix of syncopation and sustain, and the rhythm section is so tight that even if you still wish to deny them the title of Kings of the Boogie (or, at least, continue to insist that they lost that title a decade ago), it would be unfair to strip them of a lifetime board membership at least.

Guitarist Mike Halby contributes much of the original songwriting where it is present, and turns out to be a modestly competent riffmeister with a knack for a decent variation: I think that ʽLittle Crystalʼ reuses and embellishes the more Spartan riff pattern of CCR's ʽBootlegʼ, and although ʽStone Bad Street Fighting Manʼ has nothing to do with the melody of Stones' ʽStreet Fighting Manʼ, the title of the song is amusingly delivered in the same melodic way as it was done by Mick — coincidence?.. Little things like these add a much-needed pinch of amusement to what otherwise would be a completely unremarkable set of barroom tunes. Well, frankly speaking, it is still a fairly unremarkable set of barroom tunes, but then, it hardly aspires to any higher status. The whole thing, bar the totally out-of-place Otis cover, is fully adequate to the purpose, and I might even consider recommending it with a thumbs up, if not for the production, which might on the whole be even worse than Human Condition's — almost lo-fi in places (and I am not sure if it is just my copy, but you can actually sense the engineer adjusting the volume level right in the middle of the title track... what the heck???).

If there's any place left for real amazement, it has to be outside the music — with the death of The Bear, you'd think the team should have finally thought about calling it a day: what is the sense of retaining a mediocre brand name anyway, after two of the band's chief symbols had left this world, and the only original member left was the drummer? But then again, never underesti­mate the drummer (even if his name happens to be Phil Collins) — especially in the case of Canned Heat, where, somehow, the drummer eventually managed to make a difference.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Cher: Cherished


1) Pirate; 2) He Was Beautiful; 3) War Paint And Soft Feathers; 4) Love The Devil Out Of Ya; 5) She Loves To Hear The Music; 6) L. A. Plane; 7) Again; 8) Dixie; 9) Send The Man Over; 10) Thunderstorm.

Much to Cher's honor, this seems to have been the only album of hers released so far to have a pun in the title, as endless as the possibilities are (off the top of my head: 10 Golden Cher-ries, Mon Cher Ami, Go Cher-ry Coupe Now, Cher-ade, and, of course, the queen of 'em all, Ochi Cher-nyje! Hmm, come to think of it, she wasn't saddled with all these songs of Cher-okee origins for nothing, either). But the title is not the only hint at desperation that seems to have gripped the Cher camp as two of her albums in a row flopped so badly — Snuff Garrett is back, obviously in a last-minute attempt to put her back on the track with another hit single of the ʽHalf-Breedʼ or ʽDark Ladyʼ caliber.

Unfortunately, it did not help this time. All faith was put in ʽPirateʼ, another soapy tale relying on romantic clichés from the pre-industrial past (and yes, the song even opens with the sound of seagulls — how fortunate for them that they did not have this idea three years back, or else we'd probably have ʽHalf-Breedʼ opening with an Indian war cry), and it is a dutifully catchy proto-power ballad with a nice singalong chorus (and a really silly accordeon part to boot — I'm not sure if Captain Flint or Henry Morgan were such big fans of the accordeon...), but, alas, it has neither the personal angle of ʽGypsiesʼ and ʽHalf-Breedʼ nor the fun aspect of ʽDark Ladyʼ; and although I'm fairly sure that there were much, much cheesier tunes to have charted in 1979, it is probably no accident that ʽPirateʼ ultimately did not make it, barely scratching the Top 100.

The second single was even less lucky: ʽWar Paint And Soft Feathersʼ is a shameless attempt to cash in on the fond memory for ʽHalf-Breedʼ by rewarding us with a literal pulpy Romeo-and-Juliet story in two Indian tribes. With awful lyrics and a cheap vaudeville flair, this must have been Cher's worst single release in a long, long time, and even Snuff Garrett should have been ashamed of that one, not to mention all the honest people in Indian reservations throughout the US, who should have probably barred Cher from their casinos for life.

Honestly, I don't even have any ideas about who most of those songwriters are — Steve Dorff? Gloria Sklerov? Gary Harju? Whatever. Warner Bros. may have had their reasons for being angry about Cher's albums flopping one after another, but they share the blame themselves: couldn't they find somebody at least marginally more talented to provide the lady with new material? The only songwriter here who looks like he's at least trying is Johnny Durrill, the author of ʽDark Ladyʼ: he is responsible for what is probably the best tune — the fluffy, but funny ʽLove The Devil Out Of Yaʼ, beginning like a slow boring ballad but then picking up speed and leading to a danceable, cuddly chorus with some endearing vocal moves (the accappella falsetto rainbow of "shine above ya this angel...", interrupting the discoish flow, is really endearing). And as much as I hate to admit that a Cher song called ʽDixieʼ and beginning with the line "Wish I was in the land of cotton..." could be any good, it is — the string arrangement in the chorus is quite unusual, with a tinge of psychedelia, and the build-up and resolution are quite... um... emotional?

The most «interesting» tune is probably ʽSend The Man Overʼ, co-written by Garrett himself: its tale of a struggling actress, stuck between stardom and whoredom, clearly sounds related (only tangentially, of course, but still...) to Cher's current predicament, and with each chorus conclu­ding with a rather desperate appeal to "send the man over, I guess, with a script... and the cash!", you could almost find yourself empathizing for the poor thing. (Not that she was particularly striving for cash at the time — on the contrary, her glamorous extravagance was legendary — but hey, it does hurt when your albums do not sell, even if you're already loaded. A matter of hurt pride at least. We're all human, even if Cher may ultimately constitute a separate subspecies).

On the whole, despite the shortness of the LP and a few decent tunes, Cherished is definitely a thumbs down kind of record — the old Snuff Garrett albums could be redeemed by their kitsch, but this is like an unfunny parody on kitsch, and too much of the material just sounds like weak, half-assed imitations of contemporary sounds from ABBA or Olivia Newton-John (regardless of our critical opinion on these artists, they at least always sounded like they knew exactly what they were doing and where they were going, whereas Cher here just seems lost most of the time). Had she been more in control of her personal life in 1977, this may have been less of a disaster, but the times were confusing, and what can you expect from a glamorous vaudeville star marrying a technically incompatible Southern rock icon anyway?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Autechre: Elseq 2


1) elyc6 0nset; 2) chimer 1-5-1; 3) c7b2.

Okay, most of this second volume (just three tracks in total) is like one gigantic game of Pong, or, rather, two or three games of Pong played at the same time. The first track is 27 minutes long, and the only point of that is to start out fully fleshed out and then gradually shed them sound layers one by one, so that at the end of this sonic striptease we just have a bunch of waves of noise: the balls are gone, but their force fields still remain, and the ripples swing over one another long after their original cause is no longer visible. I think they did this stuff many times before, and it is merely the length of it that is new here — if you derive mystical pleasure from multiple bings, plings, psshts, burps, twirps, clicks, and clucks, be their guest.

On the up side, the first track sounds positively nice, cozy, and melodic when compared to the third track — twice as short, fortunately, but five times as irritating: think all the noisiness of the first volume, but without its sonic power: thirteen minutes of what sounds like a cross between radio static and somebody trying to bore through a concrete wall with a badly dulled and poorly powered electric drill. Some people actually pay money to be tortured by this stuff for no reason whatsoever (most likely, people who have way too much happiness in their everyday life and are looking forward to reduce it by any means possible). Bad news is, there's nothing even remotely innovative about these sounds in 2016, and without the shock factor, this is just dull in every possible manner — emotional or intellectual. And by «dull», I mean «dull as if being slowly cut apart with a very dull blade», that kind of dull.

In between the two, there's a short five minute interlude that arguably provides most of the enter­tainment — a percussion track that sounds as if somebody were furiously bashing his drumsticks on the surface of a thick, boggy marsh, and, appropriately, a synth pattern emulating the incessant croaking of little froggies, hiding somewhere near the surface (although, allegedly, froggies can­not really croak under the water, but I guess everything is possible in the alien worlds of Autech­re). This at least sounds like decent material, idea-wise, for a better developed conceptual track (perhaps they should send it to Björk or something), but little good does it do, sitting crammed there between two silly sonic monsters.

I think I almost like the way that the Pitchfork people tried to describe this volume: "If you ever wondered what it would really mean for Autechre to take an uninhibited plunge into the weirdo void, now you have your answer", they said. Most of the stuff people write about Autechre (and especially people over at Pitchfork) is meaningless and clichéd anyway (and that's not to be taken as an offense — writing something not meaningless about Autechre is almost as hard as explai­ning the Kamasutra to a Mennonite), but I like the "weirdo void" reference. A void is usually supposed to be just a void — there can be no difference between «straight void» and «weirdo void» by definition. Somehow, though, Autechre have often managed, and now they manage it again, to produce a sonic void (in the sense that there's really nothing going on) and justify its existence by the mere fact that they're weirdos. Honestly, this is mostly just annoying filler that is the electronic world's equivalent of Kenny G. Get that? Weirdo void! I am certainly not buying into it just because it's weird (and, actually, it's not even that weird any more — it's simply produced by weirdos, which is a weirdly different weirdness).

Friday, September 23, 2016

Cat Power: Sun


1) Cherokee; 2) Sun; 3) Ruin; 4) 3,6,9; 5) Always On My Own; 6) Real Life; 7) Human Being; 8) Manhattan; 9) Silent Machine; 10) Nothin But Time; 11) Peace And Love.

I don't really know what it is that makes so many analog-reared artists these days to convert to electronica sooner or later — apparently, there's this idea floating around in the air that playing guitars and pianos is «so 20th century», and that there's no way you can avoid electronic sound generation and programmed patterns if you want to stare into the future rather than stagnate in the past. Apparently, this idea is much stronger than the reminder that electronic music is a product of the 20th century, and that way too many «electronic escapades» of modern indie artists end up sounding even more retro (for instance, hearken all the way back to 1980's synth-pop) than what­ever they were doing prior to that. In other words, electronic music as the key to the future is no longer a win-only option — these days, it's just another way of preserving the status quo.

Still, I guess that in the case of Cat Power anything works that can lead the artist away from another puddle of depressed, minimalistic, unmemorable streams of conscious and towards a more concise melodic shape for her compositions — and, luckily for us all, her embrace of elec­tronic beats and pulses managed to put her back on the same track that made You Are Free such a satisfactory experience. Most of these songs she recorded all by herself, only utilizing musi­cians from Jukebox's «Dirty Delta Blues Band» on a couple of tracks; but there are quite a few acoustic overdubs as well, clothing the electronic skeletons, and the mix is very tasteful. Honest­ly, she is not just embracing electronics because it is the trendy thing to do — or if she does, she at least manages to coax such sounds out of all her synthesizers and computers so as to agree with her emotional constitution: dark, paranoid, psychic textures all around.

A good example is the title track — uninteresting drum machine beat aside, the harsh, grey synth canvas, reminding of an endless cloud front swooping across the sky, make a cool contrast with the opening "here comes, here comes, here comes the Sun", clearly an allusion to George Harri­son but with the meaning reversed: in this song, the coming of the Sun seems to rather mean "the end of the world" than the hope of redemption and salvation, as she sings about the distant period in time when the Sun is expected to expand and burn down all life on Earth. The song's quietly dramatic flavor is enhanced with several layers of electronics and overdubs of background vocals, and it works in a Dead Can Dance sort of way, even though the overall sonic combination is much simpler (after all, Chan Marshall is not really a studio tech wiz, and for her first serious experience in harnessing complex studio technologies, this is a great success).

Elsewhere, she relies on electronics as the backbone for a dance-oriented experience: ʽ3,6,9ʼ combines elements of trip-hop and hip-hop (as well as a bit of a nursery rhyme for the chorus), but everything is still infused with the Cat Power atmosphere, as she (fortunately) makes no effort to get into tough street rapping, but simply applies her usual tired, brooding, "been-to-hell-and-back" voice to the new pattern — and it ain't great, but it works. ʽReal Lifeʼ also features her half-singing, half-rapping, but without betraying the usual vocal timbre and intonation, although I am not sure if I like the somewhat «preaching» attitude she takes on here, energized with all the heavy beats ("sometimes you gotta do what you don't want to do / to get away with an unordinary life" — really?). But somehow these things never sound irritating — on the contrary, there's something enchanting about how she manages to marry these conventional dance practices with closeted, introspective brooding.

The songs that got most of the attention, having been released as singles, are actually the ones that are least dependent on electronics and feature her backing band — ʽRuinʼ and ʽCherokeeʼ. The former is a universalist Cassandra-style lament about the ultimate fate of human society, spinning atop an enticing piano riff that sounds as if it was sampled from a ballroom version of ʽLa Cucarachaʼ and then, in the chorus, riding a good old disco bassline, which, of course, makes the repetitive chorus lyrics ("what are we doing? we're sitting on a ruin!") even more ironic. Like­wise, ʽCherokeeʼ is also built on a contrast — a song of love and death, all echoey pianos and high-soaring wailing guitar trills, with an unforgettable chorus of "bury me, marry me to the sky" (an invocation where both parts have to be understood as semantically equivalent — thus, love and death are actually the same thing, if it's sexy enough for you). I think we could all have a good grin at the deadly seriousness and pretentiousness of the song, but it pulls me in by means of sheer craft — I really like how the guitars, pianos, and vocals mesh together, and the impres­sion can be interpreted as romance or mourning or both at the same time, and the bottomline is, if the music totally matches the lyrics, everything about the lyrics is forgivable.

The album's conceptually simplest song also happens to be its longest — ʽNothin But Timeʼ, a song of unexpected hope addressed to the younger generation ("you ain't got nothing' else but time, and they ain't got nothin' on you... your world is just beginning"), strolls on for 11 minutes at the same tempo and on top of the same two-note piano melody. I am not sure why (particular­ly about the instrumental coda — for some reason, after the song fades out around a still reasonable seven-minute mark, it just has to come back again and drive that riff even deeper in your skull for an extra four minutes), but I do like the arrangement and the surprising optimism in the chorus: it is almost as if, after having preached about the end of the world as we know it and her own morta­lity and the impossibility to resolve any problems for so long, she wants to leave us with one big "Well, it's all curtains for me and for you, but let's at least leave some hope for the little children" — and I'm fine with that. The amusing extra note here is that she invites Iggy Pop to help her out with the chorus harmonies, and he makes the best of his melodic baritone to join her in a fit of tenderness. Yes indeed, there's no one out there like old Iggy to wish for a brighter future for our children.

The record does end on a more grown-up note, though: ʽPeace And Loveʼ, another piece of paranoid, half-sung, half-rapped electronic rock, seems to push forward an agenda of "grown-up, progressive hippieism" ("I'm a lover but I'm in it to win"), and, again, it does this in a musically intelligent way — the hookline is a repetitive string of "na-na-na-na"'s, just the kind of thing you'd expect from some old Flower Power band, but they're sung in a minor key and the whole thing sounds like a troubled warning to mankind... as does this entire album, as a matter of fact. It may be called Sun, and there might be a rainbow coming through that front sleeve, but it is still only trying to break out from the darkened sky, and the expression on that face is anything but conventionally «sunny». The good news is, this is one more of those few albums in her catalog where she really comes across as a musician with a strong personality, not as a personality with weak musicianship — so if electronics continues to be this good to her, bring it on. For the record, it did take me a few listens to get warmed up to this new twist, so the thumbs up rating is a bit hard-earned; but it does feel good, you know, when repeated listens eventually lead to satisfaction of the senses, rather than dumb frustration.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Cheap Trick: Next Position Please


1) I Can't Take It; 2) Borderline; 3) I Don't Love Here Anymore; 4) Next Position Please; 5) Younger Girls; 6) Dancing The Night Away; 7) You Talk Too Much; 8) 3-D; 9) You Say Jump; 10) Y.O.Y.O.Y; 11) Won't Take No For An Answer; 12) Heaven's Falling; 13) Invaders Of The Heart; 14) Don't Make Our Love A Crime.

Ironically, what is probably the best Cheap Trick album of the Eighties does not sound that much like Cheap Trick — courtesy of the band's third «one-guy-per-album» producer in a row, Mr. Todd Rundgren himself. Although Todd Rundgren is no stranger to heavy rock, with which he had toyed around sufficiently over the previous decade and a half, his typical preferences are for a cleaner, more polished and controlled sound; unlike George Martin, however, he had a better idea of how to make that sound actually work for Cheap Trick, rather than simply destroy them as a meaningful musical entity — and over the course of twelve songs (fourteen if you count the two extra tracks on the CD version), that idea is applied so consistently that, for the first time since Dream Police (and, unfortunately, for the last time in a long, long time, if not ever), what you get is a Cheap Trick album that is enjoyable all the way through.

This is really electric guitar pop — thick, brawny, distorted guitar tones have been removed al­most completely, with maybe two or three exceptions (like ʽ3-Dʼ), and the cock-rock flavor of One On One has been generally replaced with a more romantic attitude; however, neither Niel­sen nor Rundgren ever allow that romanticism to run over into exaggerated dramatic sentimen­tality, with nary a single power ballad to be found anywhere. And best of all, the melodic hooks are back for a while — with Rundgren stripping the band's sound down to bare essentials, refu­sing to succumb to generic synth-pop or pop-metal coatings, there's nothing to offer the listener but sheer melody, and this implies a last-minute effort from Rick, who rises to the task so admi­rably you'd almost be ready to apologize for the disparaging assessment of his remaining pool of talent on the All Shook Up disaster.

Unfortunately, they made a wrong move with their first single — instead of releasing a Nielsen original, they went ahead with a cover of The Motors' ʽDancing The Night Awayʼ, a pop-punk nugget from 1977 that they slowed down, de-punkified, and «aggrandized» so that the entire group ended up sounding like a bit of a parody on the E Street Band (as in, «I wonder how Bruce Springsteen could have covered this tune? Maybe like this?»). Not coincidentally, it was the only track on the record that Rundgren refused to produce (since it was forced on the band by the label rather than by himself), and Ian Taylor's production makes it sound closer to the sound of One On One and to the sound of their next album, Standing On The Edge, at the same time. It's not really awful — the original was so good that it would take much more than bad production to spoil it completely — but the public seems to have smelled signs of fakeness, and the single did not chart (besides, it's rarely a good idea to release originally British nuggets as potential hit singles on the US market, and vice versa).

I suppose the disappointment instinctively carried over onto the reaction to their second single, ʽI Can't Take Itʼ — which is a completely different story, a spirited, uplifting power-pop ditty with lots of jangly, Townshend-esque electric guitar and a passionate vocal build-up all the way to the last line of the chorus. Interestingly, it is one of the very few songs in the Cheap Trick catalog that is credited solely to Zander, and indeed, the song gets by largely on the strength of the pulse of the rhythm guitar and the passion of the lead vocals — and as much as I hate to admit that Cheap Trickers could sometimes write great pop songs without a trace of smarmy irony in them, ʽI Can't Take Itʼ makes for one of the strongest cases. Why the hell did it flop as a single? It even had one of their most hilarious MTV videos ever, with people sticking pins in Zander's voodoo dolls and weird zombie/vampire references all over the place. Go figure.

Once we move past the obvious general complaint — yes, the songs are generally lightweight, straightforward, not too ambiguous, not too funny, and largely relate to «classic» Cheap Trick the same way, say, that post-1972 Ray Davies records relate to the classic Kinks period — there's very little by way of specific accusations that I could fling at specific tracks, because I like most of them. Melodic-romantic power-pop à la Roy Orbison? You have this in the form of ʽBorder­lineʼ, an escapist anthem whose verve makes it perfectly credible (hey, wait a minute — is this why they are parodying the cover of Born To Run on the front sleeve photo?). Odd mixes of lushly harmonized Europop with British pub-rock? That is more or less what they do on the title track, one of the album's few returns to pure sarcasm ("I wanna be the biggest gun in the world, I wanna see the tits on every girl!" roars Zander while impersonating the average exploited slob) that cleverly drifts between cocky verses and pleading choruses. Likewise, ʽYounger Girlsʼ offers a good way of glueing a generic blues-rock verse with a singalong pop chorus, and this juncture is actually more interesting than the song's salacious lyrics — hedonistic odes to group sex with teenage females may be a trademark of the Eighties, but it is the melodic structure of the tune, not its verbal message, that has a better chance of survival into the 21st century. (Not that I'm implying that group sex with teenage females has become completely irrelevant in the 21st century, mind you, but at least people tend to use different language to describe it now).

Even the album's lonely ballad, ʽY.O.Y.O.Yʼ, is a standout in their balladry catalog of the time: the emphasis is not on the «power» aspect, but on the melodicity of the lead vocal — Zander's "why oh why oh why can't I... be in love forever?" has a beautiful drawl to it, more of a combina­tion of satisfied purring and hazy laziness than operatic bombast, and somehow all the guitars and keyboards are wisely minimalized and restrained in the background, placing 100% emphasis on the echo-tinged vocals (and yes, Zander's vocals can be beautiful when handled properly). And the album's only song that was actually written by Rundgren, ʽHeaven's Fallingʼ (and sounds not unlike pop-era Utopia), is suitably anthemic and catchy, though, again, perhaps a little too idea­listic for a band like Cheap Trick.

Anyway, I do have to keep all the gushing in check: Next Position Please is highly consistent, but this does not necessarily mean that it is consistently great — much like Todd Rundgren's entire career, it is extremely solidly written pop, but it reflects craft rather than genius, and it is not often that you can instinctively perceive that the guys are really living out these songs or having fun with them. In fact, Rundgren's production precludes them from having fun: it goes in the opposite direction from One On One, where all the wildness sometimes seemed too exagge­rated and standing in the way of a good pop hook — and now that we've got pop hooks a-plenty, I'm starting to miss some of that wildness! You could say that some people are never satisfied, yet somehow they didn't seem to have a problem harmoniously merging the two sides on four albums in a row in the previous decade. And now they have it — still a thumbs up, for sure, but once your magic wand is broken, there's only so much you can achieve with duct tape.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Carole King: Pearls: The Songs Of Goffin And King


1) Dancin' With Tears In My Eyes; 2) Locomotion; 3) One Fine Day; 4) Hey Girl; 5) Snow Queen; 6) Chains; 7) Oh No Not My Baby; 8) Hi De Ho; 9) Wasn't Born To Follow; 10) Goin' Back.

Behold, this is a wonderful record — ten amazing songs with nary a single moment of filler, pro­bably the single most consistent and potentially mind-blowing new album produced by Carole since Tapestry, and, in fact, the consolidated power of these songs might even outweigh the collective power of Tapestry. There is a catch, though, and it will be quickly understood with a single glance at the track listing: most of these songs are re-recordings of old classics, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin in the Sixties for other artists. In other words, a desperate last-minute scramble for a commercial resuscitation — an implicit admittance of the fact that Carole has all but run out of songwriting stamina, and has no other choice but to resort to the cheap trick that forever brands the artist as a «washed-up has-been».

It does serve as an impressive testament to the immeasurable former powers of the Goffin/King duo — after two major flops in a row, Pearls made it all the way up to No. 44, and gave Carole her last success of any importance on the singles chart (in the form of ʽOne Fine Dayʼ, formerly recorded by The Chiffons). Considering that Brill Building material was about as far removed from the trends and fashions of 1980 as Renaissance music, it just goes to show how the best-of-the-best of commercial pop music is capable of transcending all chronological borders — not to mention that it is actually a very nice experience to hear Carole King sing her own song with her own charismatic voice. But ultimately it is still a one-time experience that belongs in 1980, and nothing can alter the status of The Chiffons' version as forever set in stone.

There are almost no attempts here to make the songs significantly different from what they were in the first place — on the contrary, the intention is to capture the original vibe as best as possible, to ensure that nothing gets lost in the attempt to gain something else. ʽLocomotionʼ twists with the same verve as in the Little Eva version; ʽChainsʼ has the same youthful perkiness as the Coo­kies version (maybe even a bit more, what with the sped-up tempo and an accappella take on the first chorus); ʽHi-De-Hoʼ has the same pleasant, lazy, nonchalant attitude as the Blood, Sweat & Tears version; and ʽWasn't Born To Followʼ, with a loud and proud banjo in the lead, has the same mix of earthiness and romanticism as it has in The Byrds' interpretation.

A few of the included songs merit this more than others because their original incarnations may have faded out of memory — ʽHey Girlʼ, for instance, was the only big hit for Freddie Scott; and the stuttering waltz ʽSnow Queenʼ, originally released by Carole for her long-forgotten «The City» project in 1968, is also encountered rather unfrequently, although it is more of an intro­spective and atmospheric tune than a catchy pop hit in essence. And if I understand this correctly, ʽDancing With Tears In My Eyesʼ, opening the album, is actually a new song by the two — an interesting one at that, incorporating bits of disco into what is essentially a very traditionally-ori­ented R&B number and showing that there were at least a few tiny sparks of songwriting left, though not enough to kindle a proper fire. On the other hand, while I totally understand the logic of closing the album with a rendition of ʽGoin' Backʼ ("I think I'm goin' back to the things I learned so well in my youth" — why, sure you are!), I do have to remind everybody that Carole had already recorded this song on her first proper solo album, so it's a bit of overkill.

Anyway, an official thumbs up for this album is impossible — it isn't even live, and nostalgic / customer-baiting re-recordings of classics without at least a reinterpretation angle are the equi­valent of thriving on cheat sheets. The best thing I can say is that the arrangements and the pro­duction are tasteful, and that Carole sounds as if she was having real fun with the idea, rather than just lifelessly sitting it out because somebody else hoisted it on her. But even strict completists should probably first ensure that they have all the originals in their collections before moving on to this palliative record.