This Kind of Love
3 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
It’s hard to believe Carly Simon is 62 and is releasing her 24th album. In the dark recesses of what’s left of my mind, she’s still that provocative, carefree hippy chick who released a series of clever, semi-autobiographical hits in the early 70s, including “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” “Anticipation,” “The Right Thing To Do,” and “You’re So Vain.” Simon’s album covers remained great eye candy for years afterward, but she lost me in the 80s when her career was revitalized by “Coming Around Again.” “This Kind of Love” is her first album of new material in eight years. (Her last album, 2007’s “Into White” mixed standards with covers by Simon and Garfunkle, former husband James Taylor, and Cat Stevens, who penned the title track.) For her latest, Simon collaborated with composer Jimmy Webb, one of most celebrated composers in pop music, whose luxurious string arrangements for Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” and Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park” made them orchestrated eargasms.
I don’t know what Simon paid Webb (or rather what Starbucks, distributors of the CD did), but Webb, who co-produced “Love” with Simon and Frank Filipetti, earns his money from the jump. “This Kind of Love” shows Simon’s voice has aged; it shakes a wee bit, like she’s got battling Parkinson’s, but she’s still got a generous portion of her smoky timbre. Webb’s communicative strings blend well with the influence of Brazilian music (which is a reoccurring theme throughout the album), creating a sophisticated contemporary adult sound that’s one part Simon from her “Boys in the Trees” period and part Doobie Brothers during Michael MacDonald’s adult contemporary stage. “You’re the water I never dared to jump into, you’re the place my body belongs.” It’s easy listening with easy groovin’ percussion, acoustic Esteban-like guitar, a flirty clarinet, and waves of orchestrated magic. I miss Carly the folkie, but this is the type of light fare she can do when she’s a sexy octogenarian. And who knew Carly knew was bi-lingual? She and a group of kids give a lesson in amore as they vamp out the ending.
“Hold Out Your Heart” is more finger snapping samba with harp-like acoustic guitar, sensitive strings and gently tapped congas. It’s music to swing in your hammock by. “Hold out your heart…Hold out your heart... and I will give you some of mine.” I’m not sure I like the way Carly’s voice occasionally shakes, but you have to respect her for not flooding the zone with drums and loud guitars to disguise it. It’s mostly Carly, some silky strings and a lot of well-earned sentiment.
The gentle breeze of “Island,” delivers a calming mix of soft calypso and folk. Webb really knows how to wrap a string arrangement around a song, utilizing pitty-pat percussion and Beatle-esque background vocals. “I would rather fall from grace completely than let you change my mind. I would rather bet my life against the rising of the sun.” “Island” is the album’s best song so far and very un-Carly. It will remind you of the lonely, uneasy, layered ballads of songwriter/producer Daniel Lanois (who’s to blame for unleashing many of U2s chart topping recordings).
“In My Dreams” is laden with piano, a Webb trademark. An upright bass fills out the sparse arrangement. Carly whispers when she should be holding on to her notes, but the backing instrumentation is beautiful in its simplicity, down to the gently plucked acoustic solo. “The only place I hang my hat is in my dreams. The only place I’m not alone is in my dreams. The only place I recognize is in my dreams.”
“When We’re Together” is more island-flavored adult contemporary fare. Carly’s voice still has the Carol Channing shakes, and now its triple tracked. “When We’re Together” is breezy like a sailboat cruise, but also has a familiar, comfortable ring. I’m still trying to figure out where I’ve heard the melody before.
Carly invades “American Idol” territory with “So Many People To Love,” which projects a jazz/rock fusion with a sequenced choppy rhythm track borrowed from Stevie Wonder. Instead of strings, you get humming keyboards, processed background vocals and hip hop bop. It shouldn’t work, but the material is meaningful and Carly sounds at home immersed in 21st technology.
Simon’s voice regains its 70s elasticity and strength with “They Just Want You To Be There.” There’s less quavering; Simon cuts herself short before the wobbles set in. She hits the higher registers with ease, even while having to contend with a full set of drums and crouching strings.
The power stays on in “Sangre Dolce,” one of the album’s best cuts, in which she’s surrounded by a breathy Bee Gee-like background, cresting strings and more Buenos Aires beats. Webb keeps things interesting by injecting the album’s first electric guitar solo, which makes its appearance all the more noticeable. Again, I have to wonder why Simon has such power on this song and “They Just Want You To Be There” and not on others. Whatever the reason, she sings “Sangre Dolce” with a bullfighter’s confidence.
The closer, “Too Soon To Say Goodbye,” is a gaspy waltz dedicated to Simon’s late friend, humorist Art Buchwald. This sounds a bit like Madeline Kahn lampooning Marlene Dietrich in “Blazing Saddles,” (she even says auf weidersehen) but the subject is apropos. It really is too soon for the album to end.
You’ll feel a lot of love for this platter, but there are a few cuts that strain one’s affection and stray into the realm of bad love. When Simon gets too overzealous it’s like having Britney Spears as your driving instructor – you’re bound to crash. Carly makes a huge mistake with “People Say A Lot,” doing a rap song. That’s right, a rap song. Not-so-Grandmaster Flash. She sounds eerily like Grace Slick when she talks, which is creepy enough, and when she finally sings, she grafts together a baroque/classical chorus that resembles a Frank Zappa lampoon. Coming on the heels of two well crafted ballads, this is an ambitious but utter failure. Any hip hopper who hears “People Say A Lot” will probably need to be hospitalized --- suffering from fits of laughter. Rapper shouldn’t try to sing ballads and singers shouldn’t try to rap, especially ones who are over 60.
“Hola Soleil” is the most obvious Brazilian infused tune on the album, an off-kilter samba with Webb’s bouncy, omnipresent strings. A phalanx of children joins Carly on the chorus. The acoustic guitar solo is short but perfectly plucked, echoing Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Dark Star.” There’s also a Kenny G solo and some timbales for a celebratory feel, but lyrically, “Hola Soleil” is an international smash up. Interpol needs to be notified that the parameters of Spanglish have been violated.
“The Last Samba” is a slow moving dance of death. “They’re playing the last samba, shall we dance?” No, I’ll sit this one out, Carly. The bongos droop and Webb’s cheesy piano solo will leave you envisioning hungry mosquitoes and warm margaritas. You know I hate cabaret jazz. This has Blossom Dearie and her insidious ilk written all over it. Tip your hat to the Copa Cabana on your time Carly, not mine.
Carly Simon made a few albums that’ll make you wonder who’s at the wheel of her career, such as “Torch” (an overwrought album of, that’s right, torch songs). She’s at the stage in her career where she doesn’t have to rely on cheesecake to sell albums – an artist who’s a member of the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame shouldn’t have to do that. Now she’s running on pure talent. “This Kind of Love” won’t make long-time fans forget “No Secrets,” but it’ll assure listeners that Carly Simon still has plenty of ideas behind her broad smile. Unlike some the contemporaries she sang about in “You’re So Vain” (take that Mick Jagger), Carly Simon’s music continues to prove rockers can age gracefully.