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