1970, Music

Close to You (1970) by Carpenters

I know the Carpenters by reputation and a few of their hits, only. The title track and a few other songs of theirs were big enough to find their way into pop culture. (For example, the title track has been used on The Simpsons.) Rockist orthodoxy has it that they are not very good – they are light, inconsequential, perhaps even muzak. I suspect that the Popists have tried to reclaim them but (fortunately?) I haven’t read any of those takes. (I say “fortunately” because they might have made me mad.)

The material is mostly pretty good, actually. Half the album is covers (and a couple of songs written specifically for them) and that material is noticeably stronger than Richard’s originals, for the most part. The material is not my problem with the album.

My problem, as you may have guessed, is with the overall vibe and sound of the thing, and the energy, or lack thereof. None of the covers are remotely definitive. Yes, their version of the title track is definitely the most famous version of the song but go listen to the Dionne Warwick version (for example) and tell me that this version is superior. And it’s worse for the other covers, notably “Help” (which is just bad) and “Baby It’s You”, both of which beg the question “Why?” The two Nichols/Williams songs written for them succeed more in my mind if only because I haven’t heard other versions.

So the original material actually succeeds better if only because I have nothing to compare it with. And I will say that there is some art here to the arrangements. I want to rip on them and say they’re awful (as that’s the view I was raised with) but I can’t deny that they are trying – they have put thought into these arrangements and a kinder listener might even claim some of them are sophisticated. I may not like their covers, for example, but I can’t deny they are putting effort it.

And though the whole thing is polished it is at least well-executed. Instruments make sense in a way that they don’t always do for ’70s music, which is often overdub crazy. What I mean is that I hear taste, even if it isn’t my taste.

So it’s not as bad as I expected, though I’m still happy to never ever listen to it again.


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