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.