Monday, July 18, 2005

With “Moonlight Serenade,” her first release of new material in nearly five years, Carly Simon revisits two earlier projects (1981’s “Torch” and 1990’s “My Romance”) that found the introspective pop/rock songstress covering familiar standards.

Perhaps the success of rocker Rod Stewart’s “The Great American Songbook” inspired her to tackle again a collection of tried-and-true chestnuts — classic tunes by Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers, the Gershwins and Glenn Miller’s signature title track are all present — yet “Serenade” falters.

Whereas Mr. Stewart’s foray was a novelty, given his rock-star roots, Miss Simon’s adaptation of the material shouldn’t have been too far-fetched. Sadly, it is.

“Serenade’s” most positive aspects are the 11 lush arrangements, complete with synthesized strings, by producer Richard Perry (who found earlier success with Miss Simon on her 1972 masterpiece, “No Secrets”), Mike Thompson and Lauren Wild that, unfortunately, overpower the star. The best that can be said is Miss Simon does manage to carry a tune. There are no sour notes.

But is that any reason to make an album?

From the start, Miss Simon, now 60, struggles mightily to get through the songs (I’m sensing there was a sigh of relief at the end of each take), leaving little room for style or emotions. It’s a sorry state of affairs for a woman whose feelings poured out on such earlier earthy hits as “You’re So Vain,” “Anticipation” and “You Belong to Me.”

Mr. Perry’s rich orchestration of the album’s opener, “Moonlight Serenade,” perfectly captures the essence of the big-band era, but when Miss Simon comes in, it’s like your cousin Maude performing karaoke — albeit with spectacular instrumentation — at the family reunion.

Cousin Maude may sit down after a song or two, but Miss Simon drones on, and it’s the producer’s fault. Despite his mainly stellar efforts, Mr. Perry stumbles on “I Only Have Eyes for You,” casting a strange twist on the Flamingos’ version by adding a Percy Faith easy-listening edge. “Moonglow,” always better as an instrumental and a challenge for even the most gifted vocalist, proves an equally bad choice for Miss Simon. And, strangely, “How Long Has This Been Going On” — a tune that seems tailor-made for her dusky vocals — suffers from Mr. Perry’s odd tempo change.

Fortunately, Miss Simon gets a breather, of sorts, on “Alone Together,” on which Mr. Perry’s gentle bossa nova touch makes few demands.

Still, it’s no redemption for the album’s other missteps — and not enough to save this “Serenade.”

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