Sunday, June 12

Another Passenger (1976)

Another Passenger is an understated album by comparison with its predecessors. It has no big hit singles. The producer was not the high-powered pop supremo, Richard Perry, who had served the previous three studio albums, but was instead the less imposing, more laid back Ted Templeman. And the album cover is remarkable mainly for being unremarkable. The viewer’s attention is assumed rather than dramatically arrested, and there is even a slight modesty to Carly's sideward gaze. 

This was a distinct change of pace from the more striking covers that preceded it. One suspects that the reticence was partly a response to the brouhaha that surrounded the cover of Playing Possum. “My new album cover is for my mother”, she laughingly told a reporter just before Another Passenger was released. “I know that she’ll like it. It is very, very demure.” The outtakes from the session (below) are similarly modest.


When another photograph from this session was used a year later as a picture sleeve for the single "Nobody Does It Better" (above), its relaxed understatement was a contrast with that song's bold, sexy delivery. But "Nobody Does It Better" was, of course, the theme song to James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, and it was not included on Another Passenger. The album's soft focus, close-up cover photograph is much more appropriate to its very unique set of songs. It is a portrait of the artist as a mature, seasoned singer and songwriter, and it promises an intimacy and a maturity that the album fully delivers. It is appropriate, too, that the lettering on the album cover should be handwritten in an informal, cursive style, for this is an album as personal and relaxed as any she has recorded.

Musically, there is certainly much to admire here. With Templeman at her side, Carly stepped backed from the polish and panache that was Richard Perry’s forte. Templeman’s other clients, the Doobie Brothers and Little Feat, served as her backing band on various tracks, and this resulted in looser arrangements and vocals than before. She is perfectly at home in the album’s many musical genres: swampy rock ("It Keeps You Runnin’"), a seductive samba ("He Likes to Roll"), wonderfully sarcastic, twangy ballads ("Cowtown" and "Dishonest Modesty"), and the intimate and emotional pop songs that had by now become her trademark ("Darkness 'til Dawn", "In Times When My Head", "Libby"). The playful suppleness of her voice is amply matched by its strength. She goes from the very top to the very bottom of her vocal range in "He Likes to Roll" without ever losing the song’s smooth groove. Similarly, in "Fairweather Father", her top-to-bottom reading of the last phrase – of the day gone by – gracefully captures the range of feelings referred to in the lyrics. 

Her songwriting is in top form on Another Passenger. Indeed, it was probably this album that made it clear she could (and eventually would) offer a song for any and all occasions and emotions. She wants the father to find her/drinking orange pop in a seedy Greek diner, from "Fairweather Father", may be the most idiosyncratic, evocative and vivid lyric every to grace a pop song, but it has near-equals in many of the other songs here. Another gem is "Riverboat Gambler", a song enriched by music that captures a romantic, showboat atmosphere and lyrics filled with fine yet cutting details (under our velvet and lace/you’re an old vagabond, I’m a poor waif).  The album’s back cover (above center) offers a visual realisation of the song, and a less demure shot of Carly, with her legs and cleavage back in view. It’s a beauty, but the shot was probably too specific to serve as the front cover, and too redolent of the Forties for a 1970s rock album. In retrospect, we can see that this nostalgic pose offered a foreshadowing of her standards albums, but it did not speak for the full range of Another Passenger.  Its companion shot (above right), not published at the time, shows Carly sitting up and holding her lapels together, playing on her image and perhaps pleasing her mother with her ostentatiously feigned modesty.

The photographer, by the way, was the acclaimed Mary Ellen Mark, who is better known for realist photojournalism than soft-focus album covers. And the riverboat gambler at Carly’s side in these photographs is none other than the reclusive director Terrence Malick, who had made his feature debut with the stunning Badlands (1973) a few years ealier. Judging by the more recent photograph of him (right), he is still proudly wearing his riverboat gambler hat these days. Malick has since directed several beautiful films - Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998) and The Tree of Life (2011) among them - but it would be entirely understandable if he still relished the moment he became a character in one of Carly Simon’s own highly cinematic, perfectly realised musical vignettes.