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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Stars and Scars: Carly Simon's The Bedroom Tapes

It's 2000 and you're Carly Simon. You've just emerged from a painful and difficult phase of your life with an album you've crafted, toiled over and produced in the face of much adversity. It is a deeply personal work, your blood, sweat and tears are etched into its very bars. Then your record company boss changes; your advocate and friend is gone, replaced by somebody who just isn't that interested in what you have to offer. You give it a go, releasing the album to the world. The reviews are good, great even, but without support the album slips from view. So what can you do? If you're Carly, you buy back your master tapes, and wait until a time comes when you can release it on your own. It's 2015 and you're Carly Simon. That moment has arrived. 

The Bedroom Tapes is in many ways the archetypal Carly Simon album. It contains prime examples of what makes her such a special artist. Carly's fluid writing about love and relationships has served her well over nearly five decades of making music, evidenced here by the poignant Whatever Became Of Her and the wry Big Dumb Guy. She also has a knack for biting satire, witness Cross the River and especially We, Your Dearest Friends, which drips with delicious vitriol. The album also wells with romance, especially on In Honor of You (George), where Carly channels and lauds the great Gershwin. There are three tracks in particular, in my opinion, that make this a truly classic album.

What a perfect night, secrets light up the sky like fireflies do
There's nothing but a silky hope, that old opiate, between me and you...

Our Affair opens the album and finds Carly on the verge of surrender. This is no chance encounter, this is a serious flirtation. It has grown over time until it is about to erupt. But Carly is in no hurry, she wants to tease out every last moment of anticipation, perhaps knowing that this is nearly always the most satisfying part of any love affair (all together, An-ti-ci-pa-tion). The song's refrain helps to build the tension, while Carly's vocal pulls you in and pushes you gently away, until she is good and ready to submit. A masterclass in seduction.

What if I couldn't pick out your face or find your hands
There are so many stars...

Carly has written many, many beautiful songs, and So Many Stars ranks among her finest compositions. It is a take on a familiar theme: finding that one love out among the masses of humanity. Carly is roaming around her beloved Manhattan, picking up guitar strings, riding the subway, window shopping.There is so much life, so many stars in the sky. What if 'the one' slips by? What if they're lost in the crowd? What if? It is a question we've all wondered, but few have described it as poetically and eloquently as Carly does here.

For Carly's fans, The Bedroom Tapes is the album we are all most grateful for. Only a few years earlier, Carly had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She survived. But what would it mean for her music? In a very real way, this album was part of Carly's recovery. It was mostly written and recorded in her bedroom, on her own, at her home in Martha's Vineyard: hence the title. On I Forget Carly gives a glimpse of her day-to-day struggle, but it is another song that fully reveals what Carly went through on her journey back to health.

A big man will love you even more when you're hurtin' 
and a really big man loves a really good scar...

The first time I heard Scar, I wept. I cried from empathy, from relief and from gaining an understanding of what cancer does to a person. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, but it can sure beat the crap out of you on the way. Carly crafts a Celtic ballad as a medium for dealing with something so raw and painful. Carly's vocal is equally fervent, you can almost touch the emotion. Fundamentally, this is a song about the hope and strength we all need to find within ourselves at our darkest times. It is remarkable and a song everybody needs to hear.

I'm really happy that this exceptional album will be available once more, and that this time Carly is in full control. The Bedroom Tapes is an old friend to me, I hope you take this second chance to make it a friend of yours too.

On 6 April, Carly will finally re-release The Bedroom Tapes as a Special Edition. You can hear samples of the tracks in the sampler above and pre-order the album on her new website here:

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