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Carpenters

Carpenters - Self-Titled (Album Review)

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Carpenters - Self-Titled (Album Review)

Is it just me, or are re-issues of the Carpenters’ albums well overdue? No, I'm not just talking about hastily thrown together anniversary deluxe editions. I'm referring to the record label and copyright holders going back to the master tapes and creating a respectful remaster that would be the definitive releases of their studio albums. I say this because, as much as I appreciate my Carpenters CD collection, none compare to the sonic brilliance heard on the vinyl release of The Singles 1969-1973. It is truly wonderful but, every time I play their third Self-Titled album, I am left wanting more. Especially considering a few songs from this album are present on the aforementioned compilation.

Unfortunately, I find the CD exhibits a very clinical digital harshness in tonality. Yes, it is a digital transport method, but it is fatiguing to listen to. Perhaps it could be suggested that my Pro-ject Debut Carbon (fitted with an Ortofon OM20 needle) is more musical than my Oppo BDP-103. I would, however, have to disagree with that as I get exceptional sound from the Oppo, provided the music is mastered correctly. Comparatively, I have some terrible vinyl pressings that no turntable could present favourably. As always, it really comes down to how the album was mastered. I'm sure some of you may think I am overstating the variances, but I can assure you the difference is night and day. Now that isn't to say that vinyl is incomparable, but it is closer to how I believe the Carpenters should sound and there is no listening fatigue.

I have also listened to the album on TIDAL Hi-Fi and, despite being different releases, similar sonic limitations are present and I would go as far as saying the TIDAL Hi-Fi version is noticeably inferior when compared to the CD, using the same DAC and overall settings. Surprisingly, the CD has a warmer and more pleasing tone than its TIDAL counterpart.

If you have an original, unmolested, vinyl release of this album I am truly envious and can only assume it sounds incredible. It is important to note that some people are less than impressed with the vinyl re-issue of The Singles 1969-1973. Apparently, it is a shadow of its former self and how the original sounded. I have no doubt, but it is still the best sounding Carpenters album I own.

Also, while I'm criticising things, let’s talk about the CD artwork and overall packaging. Housed in a standard jewel case, you get a rather bland CD and liner notes are non-existent, unless you call the reprinting of the rear cover a liner note. Surely, they could have included printed lyrics, but alas it is about as barebones as you can get. No wonder streaming music has taken off so quickly. Convenience is, of course, one key element, but I have numerous albums, on a variety of formats, that are simply not worth owning because their presentation offers no value-added proposition for the consumer. I also find it hilarious that the CD lists the tracks as being on either Side One or Side Two. Yes, double-sided optical discs do exist, but with a runtime of 31 minutes, it isn't even utilising half the capacity of the CD. This is just pure laziness. If I worked for a record company, pumping out substandard products such as this, I would be ashamed. While I understand re-issuing is all about financial return, it is my belief that an album shouldn’t be remastered, or re-issued, unless it is going to be done properly and with the respect it deserves. As music lovers, we really shouldn’t have to put up with such variations in quality,

Okay, so now that I have had my little rant and got all the depressing aspects out of the way, join me as I take a listen to the most important element; the music!

Rainy Days And Mondays is simply gorgeous. While I prefer listening to the song on the aforementioned vinyl compilation, I would listen to, and enjoy, this song on almost any speaker known to man. It is addictive and my mind plays it over and over as if it were a broken record.

Saturday is a campy B-side. I simply do not get any enjoyment from this attempt-to-be-funky tune.

Let Me Be The One thankfully brings Karen Carpenter back to the microphone. I'm sorry, but while Richard Carpenter is incredibly talented, I listen to the Carpenters primarily to hear that gorgeous vocal. Karen Carpenter was one of the greatest female vocalists in history and Let Me Be The One is an exceptional Carpenters tune that validates that opinion.

(A Place To) Hideaway is a beautiful song and one of the best on the album. Despite my complaints about sonic quality, this song is simply magical.

For All We Know is another lovely song, perfectly suited to the Carpenters’ style, but the sonic quality of this particular song sounds concealed. Still, as with their other songs, I can sometimes get past the substandard mastering as their songs are incredibly relaxing and a pleasure to listen to. Although, the aluminium foil sounding hi-hat cymbals, throughout For All We Know, is challenging to look past.

Superstar is one of my all-time favourite songs. This song on vinyl is beyond amazing. That said, other than being a little shrill on the CD, it sounds darn impressive.

Druscilla Penny isn’t a bad song and I certainly appreciate the upbeat approach as it suits Richard Carpenter's vocal style. However, what is with that beat that sounds strangely like a speck of dust on a vinyl record? It doesn't sound out of place, it just sounds wrong.

One Love is sensational. It is the definition of Easy Listening as my eyes subconsciously close, when this song is played, as I visualise the performance.

Bacharach/David Medley: A: Knowing When To Leave, B: Make It Easy On Yourself, C: (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me, D: I'll Never Fall In Love Again, E: Walk On By, F: Do You Know The Way To Jose is a fantastic medley that I simply adore. Some of you may be wondering what the song transition is like. Well, it can be summed up in a single word: masterful.

Sometimes is a lovely song, but I feel it is unbalanced as the instrumentation is featured for too long before the lyrical element begins. Subsequently, the lyrical delivery, while beautiful, is over too soon. I also don't like the ending of the song as I feel it concludes abruptly. It doesn't leave me compelled to listen to the album again or stay within the Carpenters' catalogue. If the medley was the final track on the album, I dare say my opinion would be vastly different.

Overall, the Carpenters’ Self-Titled album is an exceptional release from a musicality perspective. If I have been overly tough on the mastering of the CD, it is only because I’m aware of how incredible their music can sound and I truly hope someone is working on an archival project that will bring us closer to the original master tapes.

This review is based on listening to the Australian issued Karussell (PolyGram/A&M) release; cat: 550 063 2.

The Carpenters’ Self-Titled third album is available for purchase on CD, the TIDAL Store, and iTunes. If you prefer streaming, it is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Carpenters – Close To You (CD Review)

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Carpenters – Close To You (CD Review)

For years, I have been captivated by the Carpenters and the incredible vocal capabilities of Karen Carpenter. To say the world of music is a lesser place for her no longer being with us is an incredible understatement. For me, she was the quintessential female vocalist. Her vocal range was incredibly smooth and immediately identifiable. I find with modern music, that many of the vocalists blur into one another and lack a defined sound. Yes, imitation is a form of flattery, but there can only be one Karen Carpenter and this should also apply to all present and future musicians; for nothing is more enjoyable as a music lover than randomly listening to a song and instantly identifying the artist. Seriously, try it with modern music, of any genre, and you will find that many of the run-of-the-mill songs and albums don’t have a unique sound.

What is unique is the Carpenter’s second album Close To You. It is an exceptionally refined recording that could easily be mistaken for a greatest hits collection. That said, I don’t believe the Carpenters ever released a bad album, although I am critical of some of their style experimentations, on various albums.

The version I have of Close To You is the ‘digitally remastered’ release from 1990 and to be honest, it isn’t a bad mastering. Perhaps that is because it was mastered before the ‘loudness wars’. Certainly, there have been no additional re-mastering attempts and I have to be completely honest by saying that this is a good thing. While I have never heard an analogue version of this album, I feel that much of the sound that is associated with analogue sound has made it through the transfer. That said, it is still a little too sterile for my liking, but it is not obnoxiously so.

Regarding the analogue reproduction of the Carpenters, I have the vinyl re-issue of The Singles 1969-1973 that contains (They Long To Be) Close To You, amongst others. Yes, we all love that song, even though it has been overplayed, but I have to be completed honest when I say that this vinyl re-issue offers a superior sonic quality than this ‘digitally remastered’ edition. It is smoother and fuller. Yes, all the buzzwords that vinyl lovers throw around, but for good reason. Vinyl simply fills in the gaps. It is also a very different mastering approach and while I acknowledge that it may in-fact be the technological limitations of vinyl that colourises the sound, I like it!

Unfortunately, on both of these albums, mastering details are largely non-existent and unverifiable. Therefore, I don’t know the original source that was used for either release or the mastering engineer involved. Although, Bernie Grundman and Richard Carpenter have been referenced in relation to the CD remastering from 1990. Despite this, one must remember that each mastering engineer will master an album for their own particular tastes. Hence, why it is essential to have some of this information, especially with regards to vinyl re-issues, as too many are reportedly using questionable CD-quality masters to print the new vinyl re-issues. In a world where vinyl and streaming music delivery platforms are consistently increasing in popularity, skimping on vinyl production is only going to have a negative effect on the music industry as a whole. I implore anyone in the creation of music to take the mastering process very seriously, to ensure that the ultimate physical format is the perfect complementary product for the modern day streaming technologies.

My opinion is that the vinyl re-issue of The Singles 1969-1973 is most likely pressed from the 96kHz/24bit release that can be found on HDtracks as Universal Music, under their Back to Black label, are not always going back to the original tapes, but using the high-resolution digital master that was hopefully captured from a first generation master and mastered correctly.

While the CD is adequate, the quality of the CD booklet is pathetic. Seriously, if you’re going to go to the trouble of remastering the music, why not include additional photographs and liner notes from the era? Even updated notes that look back at the album, the production, and the remastering process would be appreciated. The CD design is so uninspiring that I would say you’re better off streaming the album as the physical product doesn’t offer any additional value; especially if you’re a TIDAL Hi-Fi subscriber.

Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the songs that make this album a must own/listen for any fan of the Carpenters:

We’ve Only Just Begun is a simply gorgeous song to start the album with. It is the epitome of the Carpenters in my opinion. An intertwining mix of piano, vocals, and a gentle beat that is hypnotic, ensures this song is repeatedly played. The only element that I don’t like in this song is the drum beat. It sounds rather hollow, as if the drum skin wasn’t tensed correctly in the studio. That said, it may just be the sound signature as it appears on other tracks as well. Interestingly, the before mentioned vinyl release doesn’t suffer from this issue, hence why mastering information is important.

Love Is Surrender is a track that I enjoy, but I find the pacing to be out-of-sync with my expectancies of a Carpenters song. However, I love the merging of the song into Maybe It’s You.

Maybe It’s You again highlights the incredible talent of Karen Carpenter. The backing instrumental elements are perfectly suited to the song and it takes you on a beautiful sonic journey. This is one song I would love to hear on vinyl, or high-resolution digital formats, as I swear there is more to the song than the CD is able to expose.

Reason To Believe is the perfect follow up tune to Maybe It’s You. It increases the pace of the album, thereby ensuring Help is a welcome addition to the tracking of the album. While I love The Beatles original version of Help, the Carpenters edition is nothing short of superb. Yes, the world of music is large enough for these two incredible renditions.

Nothing can be said about (They Long To Be) Close To You that hasn’t already been said. It is one of the world’s greatest songs ever recorded. While the Carpenters weren’t the first to record this song, it is their song. Nobody does it better!

Baby It’s You is a harmonic wonderland. Seriously, close your eyes and turn the volume up. Incredible!

I’ll Never Fall In Love Again is another absolute classic by the Carpenters.

Crescent Moon has a moody feel to it and while I enjoy the song, I feel it is disjointed in relation to the artistry that is found throughout the album. It is certainly not a b-side, but I feel that it belongs on another album.

Mr. Guder is wonderfully atmospheric and is highly enjoyable from a vocal delivery perspective. It is certainly uplifting in direct contrast to Crescent Moon. This is one song to just turn up, so you will be completely immersed in the music.  

I Kept On Loving You commences without a break from the previous song and it certainly works with the flow of the album. While Richard Carpenter is the vocalist for this song, his vocals are not nearly as tonally appealing when directly compared to the lyrical style Karen presented on the album, but nevertheless the song is very enjoyable.

Another Song is an enjoyable song, but it feels like a b-side and could have been left off the album.

Overall, Close To You is an exceptional release that any fan of the Carpenters should own, despite the limited appeal of the CD-packaging. That said, hopefully a vinyl re-issue is on the horizon, but as nothing seems to has been done with their catalogue for years, that seems unlikely.

The Carpenters Close To You is available for purchase on Vinyl, CD, iTunes, and the TIDAL Store.

Close To You is also available for streaming on TIDAL Hi-Fi

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