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Carpenters
A&M 3502
Released: May 1971
Chart Peak: #2
Weeks Charted: 59
Certified Gold: 6/7/71

Richard CarpenterKaren CarpenterThe Carpenters make good singles. "Close to You" was Bacharach and David music at its best. Karen Carpenter's lead vocal bordered on soulfulness, while the arrangement was exceptionally sharp middle-of-the-road (MOR) music. The record sold well over two million copies in the United States alone.

The follow-ups, included on Carpenters, have been phenomenally successful too, if not quite the equal of the initial hit aesthetically. "We've Only Just Begun," written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols, has a fine tune but the lyrics and arrangement are ultimately too sacharrine, even for a song as sweet as this. However, "Rainy Days and Mondays," written by the same team is a superb example of the craft of MOR music. The melody is more than catchy: it is downright memorable. Richard Carpenter's arrangement uses woodwinds as the perfect counterpoint to his own, sensitive electric piano playing. And once again, Karen Carpenter's vocal is central to the record's success. While she has all the qualities of a good pop singer, she also uses a slightly excessive tremolo to give herself a vaugely rock sounding quality, while she phrases with subtlety and ease. With all this going for it, it is a shame what was a good lyric idea was not developed particularly well.

With one excellent single and one acceptable one giving it a head start I was hoping that Carpenters would be an unexpected delight. Unfortunately, the album shows that the Carpenters are as depressingly ordinary as you all knew they were in the first place. I don't know what it is they do different when they are making album cuts instead of singles, but whatever it is, they should stop it instantly.

On Carpenters, Richard Carpenter tries his hand at song-writing. Richard can arrange, play the piano, and sing pretty in the background but his three songs are so horrifyingly Fifties cutesy-pie vulgar that I am amazed their producer allowed them to be released. Particularly outrageous was his idea of following Karen's more than respectable reading of Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett's "Superstar" with a ditty of his own about groupies called "Druscilla Penny."

Another Williams-Nichols song, "Let Me Be the One," is fine. Randy Sparks "Hideaway" is adequate and a five and a half minute Bacharach-David medley is more nightclub material than recording material. On this last, Karen sings and Richard plays piano extremely well, but because we never hear more than bits and fragments of any one song it is impossible to really get involved with it. I would have liked to hear Karen sing "Do You Know the Way to San Jose" all the way through -- the bit she does here is mighty tasty. A closing piece, "Sometimes," is embarrasingly hokey.

Ultimately the Carpenters have more going for them than against. There is no question that they have contributed mightily to the inherently limited genre of MOR music, that they bring a little light soul and sensitivity to a music that is by definintion (almost) emotionally dehydrated. They have a WASPish charm that is pleasant to admire from a distance. And they do make fine singles. Period.

- Jon Landau, Rolling Stone, 6-24-71.

Bonus Reviews!

Karen Carpenter's voice is pleasant, with a hint of an edge to it; Richard Carpenter's keyboards have the same quality; his and Karen's overdubbed back-up vocals fairly shimmer at times; the arrangements are clean, even tasteful. So why am I not happy? Probably because all of these elements plus the kind of songs the Carpenters perform add up to schmaltz. It is a specific kind of schmaltz, to be sure, and very commercial, doctored up just right for those too young or too old or too lazy to get inside the music of the new, personal, quiet troubadours -- Young, Kristofferson, Taylor, et. al. -- but who like to think they're "up to date." Well, this kind of record goes back a long way. The emotional connection between the Carpenters and their songs is about as strong as my last seventeen resolutions to quit smoking. I say it's either spinach or Doris Day, and I say the hell with it.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 10/71.

Richard's sophisticated, contemporary arrangements and Karen's sparkling voice are the essence of the Carpenters' great success. These trademarks abound in their 3rd LP, which features the million selling "For All We Know"; the current hit, "Rainy Days And Mondays"; a lovely Bacharach/David medley; Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett's "Superstar"; and "One Love," which was cowritten by Richard.

- Billboard, 1971.

Carpenters is by far the group's pinnacle, with "Rainy Days and Mondays," "Let Me Be the One," "For All We Know," "Superstar," "One Love" and "Sometimes." The production may sound dated, but it still has a fresh innocence only slightly tainted by Richard's whiny anti-groupie screed "Druscilla Penny." * * * *

- Steve Holtje, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

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