Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Carole King

  • Carole King: Writer [Ode, 1970] B
  • Tapestry [Ode, 1971] A-
  • Music [Ode, 1971] C+
  • Rhymes and Reasons [Ode, 1972] C
  • Fantasy [Ode, 1973] B
  • Wrap Around Joy [Ode, 1974] C
  • Really Rosie [Ode, 1975] B+
  • Simple Things [Capitol/Avatar, 1977] C-
  • Her Greatest Hits [Ode, 1978] B+
  • Pearls: Songs of Goffin and King [Capitol, 1980] B-
  • The Legendary Demos [Rockingale/Hear Music, 2012] *

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Carole King: Writer [Ode, 1970]
I liked these musicians better when they called themselves the City--seemed to protect them against string arrangements, folkie jazz, and other exurban excrescences. Must admit, though, that the first side is a lot more eloquent, confident, and tuneful than the nice little album the City put out in 1968. Now if only the Drifters cover on the second side had some company--the reason I'm listening, after all, is that she also wrote hits for the Chiffons, the Shirelles, Little Eva, . . . B

Tapestry [Ode, 1971]
Pacific rock, sure, but with a sharpness worthy of a Brooklyn girl--if there's a truer song about breaking up than "It's Too Late," the world (or at least AM radio) isn't ready for it. Not that lyrics are the point on an album whose title cut compares life to a you-know-what--the point is a woman singing. King has done for the female voice what countless singer-composers achieved years ago for the male: liberated it from technical decorum. She insists on being heard as she is--not raunchy and hot-to-trot or sweet and be-yoo-ti-ful, just human, with all the cracks and imperfections that implies. And for the first time she has found the music--not just the melodies, but the studio support--to put her point across as cleanly and subtly as it deserves. A-

Music [Ode, 1971]
Initially this record sounds like a mechanical follow-up to Tapestry. Then you begin to notice the subtle musical advances and the ever more assured backup, especially from guitarists Danny Kootch and James Taylor and saxophonist Curtis Amy, and start humming "Sweet Seasons" or "Song of Long Ago." Then you realize it's really just a mechanical follow-up to Tapestry. I love Carole King, but her value is as limited as it is intense, and her lyrics are banal even when she doesn't write them. C+

Rhymes and Reasons [Ode, 1972]
The melodies retain their overall charm, but because the lyrics continue their retreat, the hooks, such as they are, never jolt the expectations. C

Fantasy [Ode, 1973]
The title means she's decided to step outside herself and write songs about imaginary situations, just like some Brill Building hack. A decision which seems to have brightened her music considerably. As for the situations themselves, well, what hath Walter Lippmann wrought? But the odd thing is that in the context of her junkie and housewife soap operas, her quest for "Directions" and "A Quiet Place to Live" could almost make you "Believe in Humanity." I said almost. B

Wrap Around Joy [Ode, 1974]
The good news is that Carole's new lyricist used to work with Steely Dan. The bad news is that in Steely Dan he was a vocalist. C

Really Rosie [Ode, 1975]
I've been saying she needed a new lyricist, and here he is--Maurice Sendak, a writer of children's books favored by adults, which makes him a rock (not rock and roll) natural. By side two you begin to resent the repetitiousness of some of King's devices, but since side one comprises her most exciting music since Tapestry you're already converted and it doesn't matter. B+

Simple Things [Capitol/Avatar, 1977]
Inspirational Verse: ". . . it's not for me to understand/Maybe destruction is part of the plan." Maybe? Worth millions and she doesn't know how to make an omelet. C-

Her Greatest Hits [Ode, 1978]
Cut for cut this compilation is probably as strong as Tapestry, from which it appropriates four excellent tracks. "Believe in Humanity" is no worse than "Tapestry" itself, and it's nice to have the nicest tunes from all the dud albums that followed it in one place--especially "Corazon," "Brother, Brother," and "Been to Canaan." But it's docked a notch for lacking mythic significance. B+

Pearls: Songs of Goffin and King [Capitol, 1980]
Forget Jerry Garcia, Robin Williamson; hell, forget Laura Nyro and Melanie. Pop's ultimate hippie isn't some sagaciously addled bohemian-for-life. It's this Brill Building alumna--she can afford it. A fireman's daughter who married her lyricist before she was one-and-twenty and divorced him before she was too old to trust herself anymore, she proved she wasn't born to follow by producing an enduring monument to you-do-your-thing-and-I'll-do-mine and then sank into the quicksand of live-and-let-live. I had hopes she'd pull out by returning to her ex-husband's lyrics, which combined commercial pith with a foretaste of the benevolent-to-cosmic truisms to come. Unfortunately hippie simplicity demands a bad faith foreign to the Shirelles, who always knew they were in show biz. While her versions of Goffin-King's late hits for the Byrds and Blood, Sweat & Tears come naturally enough, she can't do "Chains" or "The Loco-Motion" straight. At her best, she condescends kindly like the Bowie of Pin Ups. At her worst, she half-swings 'em, like a folkie gone jazzie, or Bobby Rydell at an oldies show. B-

The Legendary Demos [Rockingale/Hear Music, 2012]
Just '60s reference tracks, many piano-only, but the young mother sings the words, especially the ones she didn't write, with such innocence and hope ("Take Good Care of My Baby," "So Goes Love") *

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