Tuesday, August 25, 2009


A chance conversation a couple of days ago at the awesome Anstruther Fish Bar, that most venerable of fish and chip restaurants, reawakened my love for the music of Karen Carpenter. When even the merest mention of a song title can cause a grown man to splutter over his glass of milk, his eyes welling up in emotion, you know this is music of incredible power: such to elicit meaningful responses that totally belies its common positioning within the otherwise moribund genres of MOR or easy listening.

In the BBC Arena interview special with an eightysomething Ingmar Bergman, he talked about his love of music (of which, by the way, he has impeccable taste). He pondered on the mystery of its origins, asking people along the way as part of an almost Diogenesian inquiry into its whys, yet never receiving a plausible answer. Neither do I have an answer, and my passionate feelings about these songs is a perfect reason for not having one.

The Carpenters : Love Songs (1998)

Compilations are rarely little more than lazy affairs to cash in on an artist's popularity later in their careers, or posthumously - and at their charitable best, a way of creating interest in further exploration of an artist's career. However, in the case of The Carpenters, this affectionately selected and sequenced collection makes perfect sense. Whereas their original albums were rather tepid affairs showcasing a variety of styles from inoffensive soft rock to country to pop, it was the torch songs and love songs that really stood out.

Karen Carpenter's voice is impossibly beautiful. She breathes life into her lyrics in a way that defies all reasoning, in a way that many others have tried yet all have failed - in fact, so painfully sweet and heartbreakingly pure that you have to admire Richard Carpenter's strength of resolve in not having to be constantly having to reconstitute himself from a sorry puddle of tears.

All the Carpenters' songs that I personally love are on this album, ones like
Superstar, (They Long To Be) Close To You, This Masquerade; and there are a few wonderful new discoveries too, such as the soulwrenching A Song For You. A definite criticism could be levelled at some of the fancy post-production applied to this album - it does sound as if they've been '
enhanced' a bit (in my opinion, unnecessarily), and the original version of Close To You was a minute or so longer than the one offered here.



_Black_Acrylic said...

Wow, thanks so much for pointing this album out. I love the Carpenters and Karen's incredibly heart wrenching, poignant voice. To my shame all I have is the Gold collection that does contain a fair amount of MOR-soft-rock-etc material. I'll be hunting down Love Songs forthwith.

Thomas Bey William Bailey said...

I have to say, the Carpenters may have provided my first experience with that feeling conjured by the better forms of 'ambient' music- a simultaneous perception of weightlessness and poignancy relating to some missing thing which can't be easily identified.

Their hits used to play endlessly over the p.a. of any supermarket or arts-and-crafts store that I got dragged to as a kid, I still identify them to this day with being wheeled around in a metal shopping cart under blaring white florescent lights.

Any thoughts on that latter-day Karen Carpenter revival of sorts (the Todd Haynes 'Superstar' film, the Sonic Youth tribute song etc.)?

LJP said...

I was lucky to see Haynes' "Superstar" before the lawsuits happened... Anyways yeah I have some Carpenters in my collection.

_Black_Acrylic said...

Todd Haynes' Superstar