If you didn't know whose words make up the introduction to the booklet that comes with this three-disc set, you might guess the discussion of songwriting was by a classic pop craftsman and perfectionist . . . a Paul Simon, Randy Newman or Joni Mitchell.
"I've always wondered what would happen if I held on to one song long enough to make it perfect by my standards," the introduction begins. "I would keep it locked up in my creative chamber and feed it daily with new ideas, better chord changes, a dream-inspired alteration in the melody, a more sonorous word, more alliteration, simplification, cleaner lines. . . ."
More sonorous word?
On second thought, those phrases don't offer the grace and imagery associated with pop's best writers.
There's something stodgy about the sentences, something a bit forced and uninspired--traits that seem to surface all too frequently in the music of Carly Simon, who wrote the introduction.
Simon's solo career began promisingly in 1971 with an Elektra album that contained "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be." The ballad, co-written by Jacob Brackman, spoke of romantic expectations and fears with an enticing sense of independence and drama. The single made the national Top 10 and generated enough attention and respect for Simon, who had earlier recorded with sister Lucy as the Simon Sisters, to be honored with a Grammy for best new artist.
This set includes other hits and appealing records by Simon, from 1972's wry "You're So Vain" and 1974's lilting "Haven't Got Time for the Pain" (also written with Brackman) to her seductive version of Carole Bayer Sayer/Marvin Hamlisch's "Nobody Does It Better" in 1977.
The problem with the 30-year body of work saluted in this set: There aren't many moments that live up to that early promise, which means a lot of "Clouds in My Coffee" (including a few previously unreleased tracks) is going to sound barren to all but the true believers.
Simon deserves credit for singing about personal and intimate moments of life with earnestness and desire, but the results rarely show the vocal character or thematic insight to make the music revealing or magical. All too often the music seems simply vacant.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).