Review Summary: 1971 album gives brother/sister duo a big hit, but falls short as far as diversity goes. Memorable single, Rainy Days and Mondays brings it all together.
Monday, January 2007. School just got out, I’m walking down the hallway, backpack full of homework, eager to be spread across the couch and never completed, jacket buttoned unevenly in obvious preparation for subzero temperatures. In a matter of steps this school day will be just another memory. I reach deep into my pocket, fingers folding around my precious iPod. Of course! The last moments of the school day always sound better to a soundtrack! But what to play? Scrolling through artist after artist I realize quickly that the big, glass front doors are quickly approaching. If I want to get some music in, it’s going to have to be now. I click on the next artist I can find.
The doors open and I’m hit with a blast of brisk air. Rainy Days and Mondays begins with a soft harmonica melody, one that is so instantly recognizable that it brings forth no less than half a dozen memories as I take my first steps out on to hard concrete. The song’s hook hits like a ton of feathers (or bricks, either way it’s still a ton). Karen Carpenter’s sad, refreshing vocals bring an air of blues to brother Richard’s orchestral (often very Christmassy), somewhat cinematic arrangements. “Rainy days and Mondays always bring me down” she moans in a crystal clear, vintage feminine coo. For an entity so sad Karen’s vocals exude strength in every form. The song goes on without a hitch, the perfect pop tune, and then as Richard’s bombastic string section falls into step with an epic build-up of back-up singers and horns, the perfect vocals of Karen can heard climaxing an epic song before fading away again. By the time I get on the bus I am simply blown away.
The Carpenters are no doubt a 1970’s pop band. Their somewhat trippy and ever soulful tunes paved the way for 1960’s Pyschadelia to molt into 70’s Disco Pop, with two pairs of bell bottoms and a brewing case of anorexia nervosa. The brother-sister duo (Their last name is Carpenter, wouldn’t you know) capitalized on many of the things 70’s pop lacked, and, in an era of flamboyancy and pomp The Carpenters gave Pop the bleeding heart it always wanted. Some of their songs are sad, but many of them also feature the wide-eyed innocence that makes vintage pop so god damn cute. And with the vocals of Karen Carpenter thrown in the mix, it just works
Unfortunately, the bands hit 1971 album, titled Carpenters, doesn’t boast quite the arsenal of brilliance my description may have led you to believe it did. Carpenters is an album centered around three of the bands biggest hits, Rainy Days and Mondays, For All We Know and Superstar, with a few standout tracks, the borderline Beatles-esque Druscilla Penny (with Richard singing) and Sometimes, cushioned in a bunch of samey pop tunes. It’s all catchy, it’s all cute, but nothing on the album moves quite like Rainy Days, though aforementioned hit single Superstar comes in close. The song takes a much more “Disco” approach, with rumbley bass, an even more soulful style and a chorus that’s sure to have all mothers singing and dancing. The track is still in ballad time, but the dancey, hook filled chorus brings a little bit of happy into what has been a fairly somber record. As an added bonus Sonic Youth cover it for a 1994 cover album.
Richard also has a few chances to shine on the record, the most impressing coming on Druscilla Penny, a track where his normally organic arrangements take a back seat to a psychedelic and hilariously vintage Harpsichord melody. Richard’s vocals are not nearly as sad, nor as good as lil sis’, but his cute lisp and quirky lyrics make for an enjoyable listen. And with this in mind, I think its safe to say that overall, Carpenters is great for pop and nostalgia, but not so much for brilliant songwriting and beautiful melodies. It’s easy to see why this record made it to be such a big hit, but not so much to listen to more than a few times. The Carpenters rule, and they mos def rep CT well (they were born in New Haven ffs), just maybe not so much on this album.