Like many superstars of the 1970s, Carly Simon entered into the new decade with a storied career that was on an inevitable decline. Her peak had been 1978’s Boys In The Trees, a success based upon the hit single “You Belong To Me” and also in part to the overwhelming success of non-album single, “Nobody Does It Better,” the theme to The Spy Who Loved Me. By the mid-Eighties, she was a legacy artist, but her attempts to stay current never quite worked. She would leave Warner Brothers for Epic for 1985’s Spoiled Girl, where she teamed up with several hot, contemporary producers, but the album’s attempt to modernize her sound didn’t quite work.
Yet Arista Records’ Clive Davis felt that she had fallen victim to labels that didn’t understand who she was as an artist and didn’t give her the credit she deserved. Signing her to the label based on her demos, he brought in a crack production team to work on her debut for the label, Coming Around Again. It was a bold gambit; his tactic wasn’t particularly different from what had been attempted with Spoiled Girl, including the use of several of that album’s producers. Yet Spoiled Girl’s fatal flaw was trying too hard to sound contemporary—a mistake that wasn’t going to be repeated.
Instead of making her music try to fit with the times, Coming Around Again simply presents Simon as who she was, highlighting her natural strength—that voice. Her songwriting reflected a new maturity; gone were the ditzy pop numbers about dreamy boyfriends and being blonde (yes, those really were the subjects of Spoiled Girl’s two singles), replaced with more mature reflections on falling in love, family, and the tumult of middle age. “Coming Around Again” has a catchy beat, as she sings about the daily frustrations of life—everything from fussy kids to burning dinner—and yet having contentment in it all, because such frustrations are merely temporary. It’s a positive, upbeat, hopeful, and mature song that became a massive hit that’s still played on the radio thirty years on.
Love is the predominant theme of Coming Around Again. Understandable; she had divorced her husband James Taylor four years prior, had just ended a relationship with bass player Russ Kunkel, and had recently met future husband James Hart. With both heartbreak and romance as a fount for inspiration, Simon had a lot to say. She singing longingly of past loves on “Do The Walls Come Down,” advises the broken-hearted that this is a phase that will make you stronger on “You Have To Hurt,” and then basks in the joy of newfound love (“All I Want Is You,” “Give Me All Night”) while stressing the importance of working to make it last (“Hold What You’ve Got”). Perhaps the most interesting album cut, “It Should Have Been Me,” finds her looking back on a bad romance; its arrangement and melody is a replication of her classic “You’re So Vain,” and listening to it, it becomes clear that it’s almost an answer to the song. (Does the fact that it’s about an ex-lover mean that “You’re So Vain” is about James Taylor?)
Coming Around Again was preceded by the title song, which had served as the theme song from the film Heartburn, and its success gave Simon’s career a new dimension: soundtrack artist. It wasn’t necessarily a new thing for her; she’d had massive success with her theme from The Spy Who Loved Me, but “Coming Around Again” would soon spawn a new round of soundtrack work. The bonus tracks offered here represent some of that work; “If It Wasn’t Love” was a fine selection from Nothing In Common, while “Let The River Run” comes from Working Girl, a film she was asked to soundtrack, and though it dates from this era, it would be a high-charting single on its own in 1989. (“Itsy-Bitsy Spider,” which concludes Coming Around Again, was also part of Heartburn, but it also hinted at another career move for Simon: children’s music.)
The success of Coming Around Again would result in a concert video, recorded live at Martha’s Vineyard, that would subsequently spawn a live album, Greatest Hits Live. That album is presented here as the second disc, and her takes on her classics “You’re So Vain” and “Nobody Does It Better” resonate nicely next to the newer material such as “Do The Walls Come Down” and “Two Hot Girls (On A Hot Summer Night).” It’s a satisfying set, though it would have been nice had this deluxe edition added the rest of the concert.
Coming Around Again revitalized Simon’s career, and rightly so; she possesses one of the best voices in pop and rock and roll. Though she’s not seen the same level of chart success since Coming Around Again, she’s continued to release albums and singles on a regular basis, and is still quite active today. This set shows that just because one reaches a certain age does not mean they become less viable or vital an artist, and remains a high point in a vast discography full of high points.
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Categories: Album Reviews