Wednesday, March 20

My Romance (1990)


What a difference a decade makes. In the early 1980s, Carly's first album of standards, Torch, was steeped in blues, and its cover placed her in the dark, wailing with heartache and trying to cling to the arm of the man who was getting away. By contrast, in 1990 her second album of standards conveys a much a lighter and brighter situation. On the cover of My Romance the darkness has lifted and, with a white light pouring down upon her, it is clear that she hasn't got time for the pain.




The photographer was Bob Gothard, who had taken the engaging cover shot of Greatest Hits Live, and would go on to shoot several more of her album covers. Gothard had a knack for capturing Carly in seemingly relaxed, natural moments that appear warmer and less studied than many of her earlier cover portraits. On My Romance, a close-up of her smile is all that is needed; anything else would be superfluous.

The photograph was originally in color and (as the outtake below suggests) it had a sun-drenched, contemporary feel. But for this album of standards - most of which date back to the 1930s and 1940s - the color was taken down to near-sepia levels. A dusting of gold sprayed around the edges added a gilded quality. And the elegantly hand-scripted lettering enhances the sense of vintage charm. Crucially, though, her blue eyes remain in full color. This is not only a striking visual ploy, but also a signal that throughout the album her own musical personality shines through these classic songs. 


Many of the selections - including half a dozen Rodgers and Hart tunes - had been recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Nico. (Yes, in Nico's post-Velvet Underground career, she recorded a deadpan, funereal version of "My Funny Valentine".) Yet Carly's way with standards - already established on Torch - was neither to reinvent the songs nor to stroll through them for nostalgia's sake. Rather, she breathed new life into them through her characteristically direct vocal phrasing and power.  A contemporary backdrop was occasionally added - for example, Michael Kosarin's wonderfully modern piano accompaniment on "When Your Lover Has Gone" - but for the most part it is her feeling for the original that carries the tune. The beauty of her versions of songs as familiar as "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning", "Something Wonderful" and "Time after Time" is that in her rendition each becomes a Carly Simon song without losing its own identity.  


The accompanying images serve to highlight the interplay of the singer and the song. The back cover (above) shows her wearing the gown of the chanteuse, but the emphasis is on her own direct gaze and the act of trying on this costume. Similarly, a widely used promotional poster (below) reveals that she is dressed for the part of the sophisticated nightclub chanteuse but has travelled no further than the foot of her own bed. She is right at home with this material, and adopts an appropriately elegant, slinky look for the occasion.


Not all of the songs are as smilingly upbeat as the images might suggest. Both the lessor-known "He Was Too Good To Me" and the well-worn "Little Girl Blue" have the appropriate measure of forlorn regret. But romance in all forms is celebrated and welcomed here, and there is nothing as despairing or devastated as the more heartbroken moments on Torch. "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" might have been another title for an album of songs that revels happily in many different romantic moods.

Together with the news of her second marriage and all of the signs of her newly charged career, My Romance signalled a new era of confidence, and Carly's public appearances became more numerous too. (Her performance of "Little Girl Blue" on the Today show was impeccable, and it can still be seen approximately 10 and a half minutes into this youtube compilation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1J_eeyhcqk.)  Most remarkably, there was an hour-long HBO special centred on My Romance. This allowed Carly to get past the foot of her bed and into a sleek, intimate, art deco nightclub fashioned specially for this event. Joined by the newcomer Harry Connick Jr., she performed as though she had been playing the better class of clubs for years. Yet it was one of just a handful of concerts she given over the past ten years. Somehow, inexplicably, the My Romance concert has never been released on DVD or blu-ray, but the shots below give a sense of its quality and atmosphere, not to mention her heartfelt, upbeat, and very distinctive delivery of these fine songs. The concert was a perfect showcase for an album that has itself become a standard, and it is now long overdue for a rerelease.