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Thoroughbred
Carole King

Ode SP-77034
Released: January 1976
Chart Peak: #3
Weeks Charted: 21
Certified Gold: 3/25/76

Carole KingAs straightforward a singer as she is a lyricist and composer, Carole King projects one of the most integrated personalities in pop. Her musical and intellectual scope is narrow, but her seven albums, with the exception of Fantasy (an overly self-conscious concept work), stand as one of the most consistently listenable collections of the rock era. King's melodies are seldom sophisticated but they're almost always catchy, and her lyrics embrace the pop cliché with economy, honesty and good will, turning it into a metaphor for shared experience.

Since the phonemonal success of Tapestry (still on the charts after five years and moving up again), King's skeletal piano and vocal approach has been enriched in various ways, almost always at the expense of freshness. A triumphant return to the basics makes Thoroughbred King's finest album since Tapestry, and though none of the ten new tunes carry quite the melodic clout of "You've Got a Friend," "Up on the Roof" or "A Natural Woman," taken together they form one of the most emotionally charged pop albums in quite some time. King's new songs are her typical slow-to medium-tempo ballads. They restate the dominant theme of all her work -- the relation between romantic love and friendship -- though she has never before worked with it so directly.

The emotional extremes of the earlier songs are gone, replaced by a new maturity and vibrancy. Four of the new songs reunite her with Gerry Goffin, her most reliable collaborator: their "We All Have to Be Alone" evokes a universal experience in affectingly plain language. And "It's Gonna Work Out Fine" and "Daughter of Light" express adult sentiments remarkably untinged by anxiety and filled with hope.

For me, "So Many Ways" most intensly distills the album. Recorded with just voice and piano (King's masterful pseudoclassical arrangement has a strong devotional fervor), the song celebrates a romantic partnership in broad, urgent strokes. King sings with a verve and confidence she has seldom exhibited before, and the fact that a flat note in her upper register is allowed to stand somehow makes the performance all the more gripping. It is no small gift that King can write and sing basic pop lyrics in a way that makes them feel like much more:
We have so much in common
Although we come from places worlds apart
When you reach out and touch my hand
Without a word you say I love you
You're beautiful
You are in my heart

Lou Adler's outstandingly spare production is propelled by King's excellent keyboard work and the ideal bass-drum combo of Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel. David Crosby, Graham Nash and James Taylor contribute beautiful background singing to Goffin and King's transcendental love song, "High Out of Time" and again on King's "I'd Like to Know You Better." Taylor duets movingly with King on "There's a Space between Us," another peak moment, which appears to use est vocabulary to express deep friendship almost as compellingly as "You've Got a Friend."

The joy of rediscovering Carole King is not unlike the joy of first discovering popular music and reveling in its guileless humaneness and democratic power. When Carole King sings, "Only love is real/ Everything else illusion" (the most cogent statement of her personal and artistic philosophy), I believe her.

- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone, 3/25/76.

Bonus Reviews!

Dealing with Carole King's work, you wish the language hadn't been corrupted, specifically that mediocre hadn't come to mean bad, as King is consistently mediocre in the old, conscientious, middling sense of the word. This new recording is a little more tuneful than the last couple I've heard, and the singing, arrangements, and production make the most of the talent at hand -- the album demonstrates pretty well King's knack for writing melodies that make use of what her voice does best, such as the way it goes up on "love" in "Only love is real...." But her insight is the kind you'd get from eavesdropping on the chatter at the lunch counter at Woolworth's. "We All Have to Be Alone" (co-written with Gerry Goffin) purports to explore the irony behind the truth in its title, for example, but there are actually at least two layers of irony in that, and it "probes" only the first and obvious and least interesting one. What King does best, I think, is write bubblegum tunes for other singers (she has a better feel for bubblegum for black singers than any other white writer I can think of). She is probably right in trying for a different impression now that she's doing the singing, and she has a lot of dignity and a certain grace, but the bells, the bells, they do not ring.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 5/76.

When Carole King sets to work on an album of pop songs, the result is generally as this set turns out -- a superbly executed effort combining listenable songs with one of the most distinct and best performances in pop. Return here to some of the simplicity and skill of her early Ode albums, including material cut with just her and piano. Vocal guests include James Taylor, David Crosby, Graham Nash and John David Souther, but King is the obvious focal point. Singing is stronger but at the same time more melodic than recent LPs, songs are deceptively simple, and melodies are both commercially-oriented and excellent. A number of cuts are written with Gerry Coffin, longtime writing partner of the artist's New York pop days. Production from Lou Adler is superb, and the whole package ends up as one of the better pop albums of the past year. Best cuts: "So Many Ways," "Daughter Of Light," "Only Love Is Real," "There's A Space Between Us," "I'd Like To Know You Better," "Still Here Thinking Of You."

- Billboard, 1976.

After a series of solid but unexceptional albums, King re-collaborated with her first husband Gerry Goffin and produced her best album since Tapestry. Like Tapestry, much of Thoroughbred reflected a rich soulfulness. The only thing lacking was Tapestry's amazing collection of standards. The emotive "Only Love Is Real" became a substantial hit. * * *

- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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