Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Carly Simon Album (Part 3)

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.


This Is My Life (Music from the Motion Picture) (1992, Qwest)


C –

Sources differ on whether or not this is technically considered to be one of Carly’s official studio albums, the confusion being in that this is both a soundtrack and one that was also released on a label other than Arista, who released all her non-soundtrack discs from Coming Around Again through The Bedroom Tapes. While the soundtrack is entirely comprised of Carly compositions, much of this disc is incidental music rather than proper, fully-realized pop songs, so it’s likely to have very limited appeal to most listeners. The appealing “Love of My Life” did get some radio play and reached the Adult Contemporary charts, but that song is also easily obtainable on compilations, so this disc is largely unnecessary for anyone other than diehard Carly fans looking to complete their collections.  



Romulus Hunt: A Family Opera (1993, Angel)

C –

For some reason, this album is regularly labeled as and considered to be one of Carly’s official studio albums, but that tag is rather disingenuous, even if her name is prominently featured on the album cover: Carly’s distinctive voice actually only appears on the bonus track. The sixty minutes of music that precede that cut is comprised of a children’s opera (commissioned by the Kennedy Center and Metropolitan Opera Association) that was indeed penned by Carly but is sung by cast members. It’s not bad per se, but branding this a Carly Simon album is a bit of crass marketing – it would have been more honest to call this an original cast recording – and the album’s appeal is certainly much, much more limited than that of your traditional Carly Simon album. Skip.


Letters Never Sent (1994, Arista)

B –

Neither better nor worse than her last pop outing, 1990’s Have You Seen Me Lately, Letters Never Sent does suffer from the lack of a single even half as perfect or immediate as its predecessor’s “Better Not Tell Her,” but it compensates for that by serving up a better overall platter of songs. Mind you, the album still has too many weak moments, including “Lost in Your Love,” the many heavily-sustained notes of which get very tedious very quickly, and the clumsy R&B/world-music hybrid of “Halfway ‘Round the World”), and the album goes on at least one track too long. [The disc really should have stopped with “Born to Break My Heart.”] But the gently-funky title cut is a surprisingly decent stab from Carly at something more R&B-tinged, and the operatic “Like a River” – an utterly bizarre choice for single, since the tempos keep changing throughout – is admirable for its ambitious structure. Even better are the ballad “Touched By the Sun” and the up-tempo adult-contemporary rock of “The Reason,” written with Danny Kortchmar and strangely skipped over for single release even though it’s arguably the catchiest song here.


Film Noir (1997, Arista)


Returning to the standards well for the third time, Carly fares better here than she did on My Romance, largely since she’s chosen a much less-worn selection of standards to work with, like “Laura,” “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year,” and “Don’t Smoke in Bed.” She also has the good taste to employ the great Arif Mardin and Jimmy Webb as co-producers, the latter also doubling as the album’s arranger and conductor, providing piano, and even serving as a duet partner for Carly on one cut. [John Travolta also pops up here as a duet partner on “Two Sleepy People.”] It’s her best standards disc since Torch and is surprisingly more charming than it has any right to be, but it’s still far from being anywhere near as critical a purchase as most of her self-penned outings.


The Bedroom Tapes (2000, Arista)

C +

Arguably Carly’s most overrated album, The Bedroom Tapes garnered much critical acclaim (for a Carly Simon album, anyway) for its relatively raw production (as the album title suggests, many of the songs do, in fact, sound like demos; even her vocals sound rougher than normal) and deeply personal lyrics, but while it gets off to a fabulous start with “Our Affair” (the most snarling rocker Carly’s penned since the days of Spy and Come Upstairs) and “So Many Stars,” it quickly loses focus and momentum both and gives way to a string of filler cuts like “Scar” and “Big Dumb Guy” and “We Your Dearest Friends” that suffer from weak or forgettable melodies that make the songs’ lyrical shortcomings all the more obvious. While the album is certainly one of Carly’s more intriguing studio experiments from a conceptual standpoint, the writing ultimately renders the album a disappointment, though “Our Affair,” “So Many Stars,” and “I Forget” are still quite worth hearing.


Moonlight Serenade (2005, Columbia)

C –  

After a five-year break, Carly returns with yet another album of standards – her fourth, to be exact. The disc unexpectedly marks the return of Richard Perry as producer for the first time since Playing Possum, and Carly’s vocal performances are spirited, but the album suffers from a combination of overly predictable song choices (i.e. “The More I See You,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Moonglow”) and some awkward re-arrangements, making the album feel too much like a supper-club affair. Film Noir is the classier of the two discs, but Torch is still your best bet as far as Carly’s standards discs go. 


Into White (2007, Columbia)

B –

Arguably Carly’s most tasteful, if not her best, album since Letters Never Sent, Into White isn’t quite the standards disc it’s labelled as – most of the songs here are covers, yes, but Carly largely eschews the typical ‘30s and ‘40s standards found on most discs of its kind in favor of a broad assortment of folk tunes both old (Stephen Foster) and more modern (Cat Stevens, Paul Simon), also mixing in the occasional show tune or Latin-tinged number but giving all the songs the same warm, lullaby-like ambience. Not everything here works – the remakes of the Everly Brothers’ “Devoted to You” (already covered by Carly on Boys in the Trees) and Carly’s own “Love of My Life” are redundant, the cover of the Beatles’ chestnut “Blackbird” takes a bit too many liberties with the melody, and “I Gave My Love a Cherry” and “You Are My Sunshine” are slightly dubious inclusions – but Carly hits more than she misses here, and even her covers of “Oh! Susanna” and The Wizard of Oz’s “Over the Rainbow” are surprisingly endearing, while her subdued, gently-lolling read on the Harry Belafonte classic “Jamaica Farewell” is even better and “Quiet Evening” is every bit as tranquil and appealing as you might hope from its title. Interestingly, the best two cuts here are covers of songs by old flames: the Cat Stevens-penned title cut is the perfect opener for such a disc and suits Carly even better than it did Cat, while her surprising cover of James Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes” – with Ben and Sally Taylor, Carly’s two children with James, providing the harmonies – is one of the most stunningly pretty tracks Carly’s crafted in years. This is easily one of Carly’s best late-career efforts.


This Kind of Love (2008, Hear)

B –

This heavily Brazilian-flavored disc continues the creative rebirth of Into White and is yet another better-than-normal late-career outing from Carly. The best cuts are those that stick the closest to the Brazilian sounds that inspired the album; the bossa nova of “When We’re Together,” the pure samba of “Hola Soleil” and the Jimmy Webb-penned “The Last Samba,” and the gentle lilt of the infectious “Hold Our Your Heart” are all winners. The R&B/soul-flavored “So Many People to Love” (co-written with the great Carole Bayer Sager) doesn’t exactly fit in all that well with the rest of the album, but it’s surprisingly excellent all the same. While “In My Dreams” is not one of Jimmy Webb’s better songs, the only true misfire here is the utterly jarring “People Say a Lot,” which finds Carly ill-advisedly rapping for the bulk of the track.


Never Been Gone (2009, Iris)

D +

Carly’s most recent studio outing to date is unfortunately also her least essential album yet and succumbs to one of the more tasteless trends of recent years: veteran artists recording entire discs of new studio versions of their most famous songs. While the songs themselves are all great and some of these new renditions are still quite listenable, none of these are substitutes for the originals (very rare indeed is the studio re-recording that actually is superior, so this trend truly cannot die out quickly enough), and there’s just simply no reason for this album to even exist except as a vehicle for the artist and label to make a quick buck.


Several of Carly’s best-known songs were recorded for soundtracks and never found their way onto a proper studio album, so assuming you don’t collect 45s or cassingles, the easiest way to obtain songs like “Nobody Does It Better” (Carly’s much-loved theme song for the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me) or “Let the River Run” (taken from the film Working Girl) is via a hits package. Carly’s most easily-recognizable hits package is 1975’s The Best of Carly Simon, which was a hot catalog item for years and has gone platinum three times over. Its early release date, however, means that it’s very incomplete as a representation of her full career and lacks any of her post-“Attitude Dancing” hits like “Nobody Does It Better,” “Jesse,” “You Belong to Me,” and “Coming Around Again.” Much more satisfying is Rhino’s 2004 package Reflections: Carly Simon’s Greatest Hits, which contains all of her Top 40 hits other than “Attitude Dancing” (which, frankly, isn’t really missed) and the James Taylor duet “Devoted to You” and also adds such criminally-underrated lesser-known singles like “All I Want Is You” and “Better Not Tell Her.” It would admittedly be more satisfying had they included less ‘90s material, which generally demonstrates a big fall-off in quality (certainly in the way of strong pop hooks) from what preceded it, in favor of such overlooked ‘70s singles such as “Vengeance” and “It Keeps You Runnin’,” but it’s otherwise a perfect material.