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Official Review [Album]: "MADE IN AMERICA" (SP-3723)

Discussion in 'A Song For You: The Carpenters Forum' started by Chris May, Sep 1, 2013.

How Would You Rate This Album?

  1. ***** (BEST)

    10 vote(s)
  2. ****

    14 vote(s)
  3. ***

    27 vote(s)
  4. **

    20 vote(s)
  5. *

    2 vote(s)
  1. Mark-T

    Mark-T Well-Known Member

    Maybe after the very experimental Passage, Richard felt their traditional sound would reintroduce them to their audience.
    Mary Beth likes this.
  2. Chris Mills

    Chris Mills Well-Known Member

    Beechwood is my guilty pleasure, the more I watch the video, the more I love it.

  3. Rumbahbah

    Rumbahbah Well-Known Member

    I wonder whether it was something to do with that change that hits a lot of music lovers when they get to their 30s/40s where they gradually start losing interest in current music that's in the charts and stick more with the music styles they grew up with and liked in their early 20s.

    It's understandable, but the problem is that when you're a musician, the market doesn't stand still in quite the same way - those who originally bought your records aren't buying so many or taking such an interest in music anymore, and those who are younger and aren't familiar with your golden years aren't going to be converted.

    The Carpenters' declining chart fortunes in the later 1970s meant they didn't have a big hardcore fanbase anymore that would stick with them almost regardless of what they put out, and if that's the case, the only way you're going to change things is by giving people something new and appealing to those who might not ordinarily form part of your audience. This is one of the downsides of producing yourself - there's no new influence on things. Bringing in an outside producer doesn't always create the best results, but at least they shake things up and stop it being 'same old, same old'.

    I do suspect though that Richard wanted to stick with the 'tried and tested' formula anyway and believed it still had currency in terms of creating hits in the 1980s. In that, if Made in America is anything to go by, I fear he was probably mistaken.
  4. BarryT60

    BarryT60 Well-Known Member

    I am not sure this album really was the tried and tested formula... They needed to branch out and they were trying... I just think there could have been a slightly better way to branch - without falling into the trap of a 1980 time-branded sound.

    It may be just me, but nothing in 1980 seemed to stick... From synthesizers to parachute pants, much of the 80's shtick was kind of forgettable for me.

    Was commenting to someone that "When It's Gone" may be my favorite track on the lp simply because it sounds just as current today as it did then. Very few songs on this album do.
    GaryAlan likes this.
  5. Rumbahbah

    Rumbahbah Well-Known Member

    I'd say this is a subjective take - you could make a similar case against much if the music/fashion of the 1970s being dated and forgettable if you were so minded.

    I really don't see much evidence on Made in America of them trying to branch out in terms of their sound. The only two exceptions are 'Touch Me When We're Dancing' (which was along the right lines, although almost derailed by its overblown chorus) and 'Back in My Life Again' (which suffers from bad production and too timid use of synths - if you're going to go there, you might as well commit properly to making that jump). The rest of the tracks all sound to me as if they could have been recorded anytime from 1976 onwards.

    In fairness, it's not always easy for all acts to adapt to new musical evolutions - synths didn't suit everyone, although I'd say this was a bigger challenge for R&B acts than pop acts to tackle in the 1980s. Ironically, I think if the Carpenters had gone right back to the more 'direct' style of their early 1970s hits (thus dropping some of the bad MOR habits they'd picked up along the way, like the overuse of the oboe) and back to using their own backing vocals, with a bit of tweaking and aiming more at the pop market than the AC market, they could have made more commercial headway than they did with Made in America.
  6. GaryAlan

    GaryAlan Well-Known Member

    The statement of manager Weintraub seems to have warped Richard's outlook:
    "You are the Perry Como's of today"
    Nothing against Mr. Como, as I love some of his music; be that as it may,
    Carpenters' went from 1970 pop music "trendsetters" to irrelevant within the decade.
    Appearing on the syndicated Merv Griffin Show in 1981, but no longer on Johnny Carson.
    Thus, I wonder, even if the songs had been better (and, especially better arrangement-wise)
    on Made In America would that television promotion for the album have improved ?
    From "live" in 1973 Carson, to lip-syncing in 1981 on Griffin;
    by 1981 a caricature of themselves.
    Mark-T likes this.
  7. newvillefan

    newvillefan Well-Known Member

    That was poor advice from Weintraub because Perry Como was an outdated anachronism by the 1970s. They should never have modelled themselves on anything close to Como.
    Mark-T likes this.
  8. GaryAlan

    GaryAlan Well-Known Member

    Here's what goes through my mind:
    suppose Karen Carpenter had done a live rendition of
    When It's Gone on that ABC Interview in late 1981,
    in the same 'unplugged' rendition as I Need To Be In Love, from December 1978.
    If audiences had seen and heard that, then, it would hopefully have made USA audiences
    more receptive to Carpenters !
  9. newvillefan

    newvillefan Well-Known Member

    I understand your sentiment and it's a lovely tune but an album track at best. At five minutes long and fairly repetitive in its form, I think audiences would have fallen asleep.
  10. Chris Mills

    Chris Mills Well-Known Member

    Carpenters were unable to attract huge album sales in the US with the release of this album.
    Made In America?........Flopped In America!
  11. Toolman

    Toolman Simple Man, Simple Dream

    This is probably the best explanation I've ever seen for why MIA sounds the way it does. Honestly, the first time I heard "Say Yeah" on "Time", I thought Richard did an unexpectedly good job of bringing 1980s textures into a Carpenters production. It doesn't solve the everlasting image problem, but I do think he had it in him to produce contemporary sounds. And he must have had some confidence in it, to lead off his first solo LP with that track.
    Mark-T likes this.
  12. tomswift2002

    tomswift2002 Active Member

    With a title of "Made In America" you would expect the album to be more patriotic. But I really find that there is nothing patriotic about the alm
  13. BarryT60

    BarryT60 Well-Known Member

    You know, perhaps I am over analyzing the nuances of the arrangements from when this album was recorded. I think it may be because this was the last recorded effort of new material - - released while both Karen & Richard were both here.

    Had another several albums come out - or even just a few, perhaps MIA would find its way into a more typical ranking of favorites, without over-thinking the project.

    Because it is a bookend - of sorts - the last of its kind, really, this one gets a little more critical attention from yours truly.

    As stated a couple times, when the thing came out - I was thrilled... Just as I would have in 1982 or 3 ir 4 if an even newer album would have been released - - of course in the hopes of another more impactful come-back...
    GaryAlan likes this.
  14. Chris May

    Chris May Resident 'Carpenterologist' Moderator Thread Starter

    One more thing I thought I might add to this as it relates to comments made about the polished or over-produced nature of this album, is that we have to also remember that as one-half of the "Carpenters", this was Richard's return to his craft, following years of personal struggle, rehabilitation including a full year off, and now his batteries "recharged" if you will. No one had a clue what was about to transpire with Karen over the coming 24 or so months, so I really think that when we're talking about the polished production, placement of Karen's leads in the mixes etc., I think human nature on his part probably dictated some of that whether he was aware of it or not.

    At the time the album was recorded, he was refreshed, a head full of new ideas and incredible enthusiasm, and a studio that was now capable of marrying up (2) 24-track tape machines to give him (at that time) a seemingly infinite number of tracks to work with. Taking everything that has been mentioned here so far in addition to this? No offense to anyone, but yeah...I sort of get it...
    David A, Daniel Perales and Harry like this.
  15. Mark-T

    Mark-T Well-Known Member

    This disc has been on my turntable for a few days. I'm really liking Side One. Side Two- not so much.
  16. GaryAlan

    GaryAlan Well-Known Member

    As with Mark, this LP has been spinning a lot, lately, on my turntable.
    And, as with Chris May, I, too, ..."sort of get it..."
    However, be that as it may:
    (1) I Believe You was completed in 1978, therefore, only nine songs needed selecting for inclusion on this LP.
    And, too, this song was arranged by Paul Riser.
    Thus, we get another nine songs where "Richard is recharged and ready to go with his music..."
    (2) Karen requested Because We Are In Love be written for her wedding (1980),
    it being arranged by Peter Knight. Had the wedding not transpired, would the song ever have been written ?
    Would Richard ...."being recharged"...have written anything else at this point in time ? Who knows.
    (3) Those Good Old Dreams, even here, as has been noted elsewhere, reminiscent of Top Of The World.
    (4) 'Got What It Takes, a Roger Nichols tune, noted by Richard to be reminiscent of I Kept On Loving You.
    (5) Touch Me When We're Dancing had been in release by the group 'Bama a year prior.
    Here, too, the arrangement is not so far from that released by Bama.
    (6) Strength of A Woman, had been in release a year , or so, earlier, here again a similar arrangement.
    (7) When It's Gone, not being in a previous release by any artist that I am aware of,
    might be the One song with an entirely new arrangement by Richard Carpenter.
    (8) Beechwood 4-5789, here, again, an arrangement not totally distant from the original,
    and reminiscent of Postman.
    (9) Want You Back In My Life Again, a song which had gotten single release by another artist,
    a year or so, earlier.
    (10) Somebody's Been Lyin'....Sager and Bacharach, again hoping for 'lightning in a bottle',
    a nice song, but, hardly on par with previous Bacharach melodies, let alone Close To You.
    And, the arrangement, production, far too overblown.

    Thus, even in retrospect, I am dubious as to what it means to say Richard Carpenter was recharged
    and ready to go......that is, what Richard means when he makes the statement...
    No offense to anyone, as I love some of these songs (and, I like the others)
    but, even in its own time (when I first heard the LP in 1981) I knew something was amiss.
    Exactly what is amiss, that has been the question since that time.....
  17. I love the discussion going here!

    Richard understood that the sound that he had with Karen in the (early) 70s was one that was timeless, in a sense. Sure, today the oboes and strings and all that might bring you back to that era in a flash, but it still feels fresh today, still retains its class and emotional human connection. Nothing about it sounds stale. It represents the best parts of 70s music. Even in the latter half of the decade when pop music became more artificial they stuck with there sound. It did them absolutely no favors commercially but he knew that when people heard it in fifty years it would hold up sturdier than many other albums.

    We can understand keeping with the same sound and having it be patchy and uneven in the later 70s (his pill problem overtook everything), but when it came around to MIA, with more time to rest up, things are different. On one hand, I really do appreciate that Richard kept their musical identity in the sense that he didn't go out with a full "80s" sound with the dated keyboards and synths and all that (most pop albums of that era sound lousy today). The album is fully listenable, in the sense that even if you don't like many songs on it, it still retains a timelessness overall and doesn't venture to places they didn't belong. Now, like I said, commercially it was career suicide because at that time it was largely out of place, and had been for years.

    The songs and mixes themselves can often be mixed all wrong, airbrushed to the point of not having an emotional punch, and lacking many solid Karen vocals. I do really love some songs on here and some do really hold up today even if they didn't have a chance in hell at being a hit in 1981. Maybe that's what Richard was after - looking ahead at the legacy in the future instead of dying for another hit he knew would never come. With this being said, even the best songs here just don't sound as inspired as before, the magic isn't totally gone but slowly drifting away. We know that Karen could still hit those low notes with her old richness (her MMM studio recordings are evidence of this) but yet it wasn't utilized on MIA the same way. Why? Richard complains that her solo album was in too high of a key and yet he goes ahead and puts her in the same key range?

    As frustrating as MIA is its miles better than anything he put out on "Time", just comparing the arrangements, whatever tempo, there is no comparison on what was vastly more effective. Though there was a difference of about six years, I'm grateful he didn't utilize modern 80s gimmicks on the last Carpenters album, and then the subsequent albums after Karen's death. I'd hear Beechwood a million times before I listened to Say Yeah! again.
  18. GaryAlan

    GaryAlan Well-Known Member

    And, too, as far as the Richard Carpenter brilliance,
    How Could I Ask For More and Something In Your Eyes
    are both excellent pop songs: composition, lyric, arrangement and production.
    Daniel Perales likes this.
  19. I totally forgot to mention, Richard's album with Akiko is amazing and that's how I think the Carpenters should have went into the 80s; sounding contemporary yet still have a classic Carpenters vibe. How Could I Ask For More is a great song and would have been great for Karen, though Akiko is equally great on it. Something in Your Eyes on its own is so-so for me. Compared to Richard's horrid lead vocals it's a gem but as an individual song it still feels sour when put next to Akiko's songs.
  20. Chris May

    Chris May Resident 'Carpenterologist' Moderator Thread Starter

    Great breakdown GaryAlan! And just to clarify the point here, Richard's involvement went beyond the arranging duties on the album. Remember, he was also the overseer of the production, which is a monstrous task in and of itself, so it's the polish on the entire package to which I was referring most. Even with the tunes Richard personally arranged for inclusion here, they might sound simple, but in reality there is quite a bit more going on in them on those master tapes to give them the finished sound that they ultimately have. This would certainly have required a very driven and devoted approach, which I believe stemmed directly from Richard's desire to jump back in to the studio to make another record, possibly with some blinders on in terms of steering it in a different and less-familiar direction for reasons I pointed out previously.
    Mary Beth likes this.
  21. I really do love and appreciate Richard's focus on the intricate, detailed arrangements on some tunes here. Even though the album is very safe and continues the downward slide that started in 1976, I can still get lost in the lush textures of it even when it doesn't hit me the way the material/performances before did. You can call the arrangements fussy or maybe even bland/samey at points but you can totally hear the effort put into it. Also, Karen's voice always goes to my soul so hearing her even on lesser material is a gift.
  22. GaryAlan

    GaryAlan Well-Known Member

    Thanks, Chris May for clarifying Richard's import when it comes to album production.
    And, I do understand that much goes on behind the scenes and that a Carpenters' song
    is considerably more complex than is usually understood.
    However, I merely consider that according to 1973's Billboard article, an album normally
    took three months to "complete," and by 1975's Horizon that time had taken up to six months.
    Passage was back down to "three months" to complete (the Liner Notes), and Christmas Portrait
    was "in the can" by end of July 1978 (Fan Club Notes).
    Thus, effectively from late-1978 to early-1981 Richard Carpenter was--or, had the time to--
    re-charge his musical batteries. Of course, as he states, it only took a few weeks and he was
    "cured" of his ailment, so, I still must wonder how his production values were refreshed as
    evidenced on Made In America.
    In the A&M press kit Richard mentions his "growth," and that is what is lacking.(IMHO)
    His string arrangements are noteworthy on Made In America, but, to my ears,
    the signature background vocals are not as well-produced, nor are the drum arrangements.
    On the positive side, the left-overs (those from the MIA sessions) which surfaced on Lovelines,
    are brilliant ! (Arrangements, which I presume which were done long after 1981).
    There are such sparks of brilliance on Made In America, simply too few and too far between.
  23. Chris May

    Chris May Resident 'Carpenterologist' Moderator Thread Starter

    The only point of reference I could give to possibly help answer this question, is to go to the SACD individual stems (meaning, left rear followed by right rear, center channel isolated etc) and listen to what's going on with - let's say, "Touch Me When We're Dancing." Again, from a musician/arranger/producer such as Richard's standpoint, there were things that he personally tackled successfully in those arrangements that probably only he would fully know and hear/appreciate. Much of this, as it is really all several pieces of a puzzle that are assembled tightly together, doesn't amount to a hill of beans to most listeners/appreciators of their music, other than to say that one simply "likes it" or "doesn't like it".

    What I'm basically saying here is that Richard got a personal satisfaction of ego that only someone with his experience could truly relate to or appreciate. He might have produced what most people see as just "another Carpenters album" with an occasional new spark here or there. For him, he may have gotten over a particular writer's block with regard to let's say, some of the string arranging and orchestration, vocals or what have you that again, only he can fully realize and bask in at the end of the day.

    As far as the comment Richard made regarding rehabilitation and being "cured" at 3 weeks, what he was referring to in that interview was that he was sleeping now better than he had in years (since the particular drug he'd become dependent on was to help induce sleep). From the addict's standpoint, it literally takes years to fully and truly mentally and emotionally recover.
    A&M Retro likes this.
  24. GaryAlan

    GaryAlan Well-Known Member

    Thanks,again, Chris !
    Especially, referencing the SA-CD, as that may be where I need to turn for a greater appreciation.
    (But, even there, I am sure the "mix" surpasses what we had available on LP in 1981.)
    Likewise, I always felt Touch Me When We're Dancing was very well arranged and produced.
    Strangely enough, I never have thought of Made In America as really representative of a "Carpenters album" !
    It being the last one I would wholeheartedly recommend to someone unfamiliar with a Carpenters album.
    My reference point,then, vacillates somewhere between the LP Horizon and A Song For You.
    In any event, Those Good Old Dreams, which obviously has a lot going on,
    encapsulates the signature-Carpenters' sound for me--on LP Made In America !
    Chris May likes this.
  25. A&M Retro

    A&M Retro Well-Known Member

    I agree that 'Made In America' just doesn't have much 'punch'. It's beautifully produced, arranged and performed, but there's nothing that hits the listener in the 'gut'. Karen's vocals are placed as any other instrument is placed in the mix, and Richard's touch is everywhere.

    I bought it in early June, 1981, the same day I was ASTONISHED to see a new single on that week's Billboard Top 100 chart (which was hanging on the wall above the singles section of Record Bar). I remember 'Touch Me When We're Dancing' debuted at #71, and I went into overdrive to find the 45 and the album. Amazingly, I found it that same day in a record store known for selling hot records (as in stolen and uber cheap prices). It might have been a few days before the actual release date when I found it because it wasn't in any other store yet. The owner of the record store, Tigers, was right out of the TV show, 'The Sopranos', and ended up dead in the trunk of his car....huge news at the time in Kansas City. But I digress....lol.

    Anyway, I took it home and immediately noticed the 'Produced by Richard Carpenter' credit, and thought to myself, 'Ah, he's back and he's got Karen back, and this will be about him'. I was right. I still love certain moments on MIA, and am so glad we have it. But it doesn't hold up like some of the earlier albums.
    GaryAlan and Chris May like this.

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