Released: January 1976
Chart Peak: #3
Weeks Charted: 21
Certified Gold: 3/25/76
As straightforward a singer as she is a lyricist and composer, Carole King projects one of the most integrated personalities in pop. Her musical and intellectual scope is narrow, but her seven albums, with the exception of Fantasy (an overly self-conscious concept work), stand as one of the most consistently listenable collections of the rock era. King's melodies are seldom sophisticated but they're almost always catchy, and her lyrics embrace the pop cliché with economy, honesty and good will, turning it into a metaphor for shared experience.
Since the phonemonal success of Tapestry (still on the charts after five years and moving up again), King's skeletal piano and vocal approach has been enriched in various ways, almost always at the expense of freshness. A triumphant return to the basics makes Thoroughbred King's finest album since Tapestry, and though none of the ten new tunes carry quite the melodic clout of "You've Got a Friend," "Up on the Roof" or "A Natural Woman," taken together they form one of the most emotionally charged pop albums in quite some time. King's new songs are her typical slow-to medium-tempo ballads. They restate the dominant theme of all her work -- the relation between romantic love and friendship -- though she has never before worked with it so directly.
For me, "So Many Ways" most intensly distills the album. Recorded with just voice and piano (King's masterful pseudoclassical arrangement has a strong devotional fervor), the song celebrates a romantic partnership in broad, urgent strokes. King sings with a verve and confidence she has seldom exhibited before, and the fact that a flat note in her upper register is allowed to stand somehow makes the performance all the more gripping. It is no small gift that King can write and sing basic pop lyrics in a way that makes them feel like much more:
Lou Adler's outstandingly spare production is propelled by King's excellent keyboard work and the ideal bass-drum combo of Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel. David Crosby, Graham Nash and James Taylor contribute beautiful background singing to Goffin and King's transcendental love song, "High Out of Time" and again on King's "I'd Like to Know You Better." Taylor duets movingly with King on "There's a Space between Us," another peak moment, which appears to use est vocabulary to express deep friendship almost as compellingly as "You've Got a Friend."
The joy of rediscovering Carole King is not unlike the joy of first discovering popular music and reveling in its guileless humaneness and democratic power. When Carole King sings, "Only love is real/ Everything else illusion" (the most cogent statement of her personal and artistic philosophy), I believe her.
- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone, 3/25/76.
When Carole King sets to work on an album of pop songs, the result is generally as this set turns out -- a superbly executed effort combining listenable songs with one of the most distinct and best performances in pop. Return here to some of the simplicity and skill of her early Ode albums, including material cut with just her and piano. Vocal guests include James Taylor, David Crosby, Graham Nash and John David Souther, but King is the obvious focal point. Singing is stronger but at the same time more melodic than recent LPs, songs are deceptively simple, and melodies are both commercially-oriented and excellent. A number of cuts are written with Gerry Coffin, longtime writing partner of the artist's New York pop days. Production from Lou Adler is superb, and the whole package ends up as one of the better pop albums of the past year. Best cuts: "So Many Ways," "Daughter Of Light," "Only Love Is Real," "There's A Space Between Us," "I'd Like To Know You Better," "Still Here Thinking Of You."
- Billboard, 1976.
After a series of solid but unexceptional albums, King re-collaborated with her first husband Gerry Goffin and produced her best album since Tapestry. Like Tapestry, much of Thoroughbred reflected a rich soulfulness. The only thing lacking was Tapestry's amazing collection of standards. The emotive "Only Love Is Real" became a substantial hit. * * *
- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
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