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SUMMER ALBUM ROUNDUP : HOT & COOL SUMMER SOUNDS : * * * * Great Balls of Fire * * * Good Vibrations * * Maybe Baby * Running on Empty : : CARPENTER'S COMPROMISE

August 30, 1987|PAUL GREIN

* * "TIME." Richard Carpenter. A&M. Karen Carpenter's death in 1983 left her brother Richard's recording career in limbo. He produced and arranged the Carpenters' long string of hits, and had written several of them. Still, it was Karen's warm, expressive vocals that made those hits so distinctive. On this, Carpenter's first album without her, he had to make a choice: find another lead vocalist, recruit guest vocalists, or sing all the songs himself.

It would have been impossible for Carpenter to find another lead singer as gifted as Karen, and it would have been unwise for him to handle all of the leads himself, because his bland vocals convey little character. The soundest approach would have been to bring in guest vocalists, as instrumentalists like Quincy Jones, Sergio Mendes and Alan Parsons have done successfully in recent years.

Instead, Carpenter struck a compromise, singing six of the songs himself and bringing in Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield to sing one song each. Warwick sings the slow-boil ballad "In Love Alone" (the last song Carpenter and his longtime lyricist, John Bettis, wrote for Karen). Warwick gives the song a warm, understated reading, by turns brooding and soaring. The Springfield cut, "Something in Your Eyes," is a lush, old-fashioned ballad, along the lines of "I Just Fall in Love Again," which the Carpenters introduced 10 years ago.

Carpenter isn't the first pop composer without much of a voice. Burt Bacharach and Marvin Hamlisch aren't going to put Michael McDonald out of business, but they don't try to. They concentrate on what they do best--and so should Carpenter. The quality of the Warwick cut in particular indicates that he should produce other pop vocalists. The title track, a moody instrumental with wide-screen scope, suggests a talent for film scoring. Carpenter should pursue these and other career directions, rather than insist on being something he isn't.

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