CD Review of This Kind of Love by Carly Simon
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Carly Simon:
This Kind of Love

Reviewed by Jeff Giles


arly Simon has been a lot of things over the course of her long career – confessional singer/songwriter, pop chanteuse, adult contemporary hitmaker, crooner of standards – and as a matter of course, not all of her adventures in sound have had happy endings. (Who can forget 1985’s Spoiled Girl? Oh, right – everyone.) In theory, Simon is absolutely fascinating – a singer and songwriter whose very specific talents are dwarfed and abused by a restlessness that, whether borne of ennui or ambition, has sent her traipsing across the pop landscape for decades. Her commercial heyday was relatively brief, and over long ago – consider that 1987’s “Coming Around Again” was a comeback – but her name has always carried enough weight to keep the record deals coming, and earn at least passing buzz for her releases (her last album, 2007’s Into White, debuted at a seemingly impossible #13).

When she’s in her musical wheelhouse – specifically, singing midtempo pop ballads about the lives of New England women – Simon can be a very engaging performer; but, as alluded to in the above paragraph, she has a propensity for taking ill-advised detours. This Kind of Love, her debut for the Starbucks-partnered label that Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, and Simon’s ex-husband James Taylor call home, may be the most ill-advised of all.

The set, which reunites Simon with Jimmy Webb and Frank Filipetti, her collaborators for 1997’s Film Noir, finds her trying to graft her thin warble onto something vaguely resembling Brazilian music. The results – as anyone who’s ever heard a Carly Simon album could have guessed – are almost uniformly disastrous. But that must be one of the great things about being Carly Simon – who’s going to tell her she can’t do it? She may not sell in the millions anymore, but thousands of people still buy whatever she releases, and anyway, she just seems so darn nice. In cases like this one, she’s sort of like a retarded kid running for class president: Everyone knows it won’t end well, but nobody wants to be the one to step in and put a stop to it.

Carly Simon

Which brings us to This Kind of Love – and the second great thing about being Carly Simon, which is that even when you’re putting together an album that’s supposed to have some kind of theme, you don’t have to stick to it. Part of Simon’s charm has always been that she seems a little daffy, and all of her albums bear the stamp of a slightly deranged personality; you can always picture her coming into the studio and saying something like, “I saw the most beautiful oriole outside my window this morning, and all at once, I understood that this song needed a kazoo solo in the bridge.”

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that This Kind of Love, though noticeably “Brazilian,” is really only about Brazilian music in the loosest, most nominal sense. For one thing, that music is largely informed by sensuality, and although Simon’s work definitely has a sexual component, bossa nova and/or samba depends on the allure of the unspoken – something decidedly foreign to the Chardonnay-swilling Martha’s Vineyard yentas Simon has always personified best. Also – and perhaps more importantly – Simon can’t resist tinkling on the rug every so often, adding nonsensical ingredients to the arrangements when you least expect it. To listen to This Kind of Love is to continually ask yourself questions you never thought you’d have to ask, such as: What is a children’s choir doing here? and Great Christ, is she rapping now? In theory, it’s wonderfully eclectic; in practice, however, it lands somewhere below waterboarding (but above mild blunt trauma) on a list of painful things. The capper, fittingly, is the album’s final track, the falsely titled “Too Soon to Say Goodbye,” which finds Simon slipping into a bizarre whisper-sing like a seven-year-old with stage fright. You may find yourself unable to turn away, but you should try.

Embarrassing as all this is, Simon’s name and the well-oiled Hear/Starbucks marketing machine should help This Kind of Love move a decent number of units; before long, she’ll be back with another, more entertaining album, and we can forget these songs ever happened. In the meantime, you may want to consider getting your coffee somewhere else for the next couple of months – you’ll lower your risk of inadvertent exposure that way.

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