|Released||June 16, 1981|
Richard and Karen Carpenter were at a crossroads professionaly and personaly in 1980. Richard had succesfully conquered his addiction to qualudes, and after two years of being away from the recording studio (the last time was for 1978's "CHRISTMAS PORTRAIT" album) he was itching to get back to work. Karen, however had spent much of 1979 in New York, recording a solo album with famed producer Phil Ramone and Billy Joel's band, still not facing her anorexia, still growing thinner. It had been Three years since "PASSAGE", their last pop effort, and the future of the group was up in the air. The negative reaction from A&M brass and Richard towards Karen's album further clouded things, as Karen was torn and put on the spot. After months of behind the scenes turmoil and horsetrading, Karen reluctantly shelved the album and decided to reaffirm her commitment to The Carpenters, electing to record a new album with Richard.
Work began on the album that would become "Made In America", however, Karen's whirlwind romance and marriage to scumba...er, Real Estate developer Tom Burris further delayed work on the LP, which ultimately was not finished until 1981. Taking over a year to record, "MIM" was also the most expensive record the duo produced in their 12 year run. However, upon listening to the album, one must ask themselves where all that time and money went, because the album is not the best work RC & KC did. Not to say this is a bad album. On it's own merits, it is a well produced, well crafted collection of well written and sung pop songs. However, compaired to the past work of these two, it overall is a disappointment.
Now, There are many reasons for this. After three years of being away from the studio, Richard was not at the top of his game, and he had fallen further out of touch with what fans and the public at large wanted. Karen, who was struggling both with her anorexia and a nightmare of a marriage (read the new KC biography "LITTLE GIRL BLUE" to see how bad it was. That Tom Burris was some piece of work.), was not in any real shape to be devoting time to recording, yet she put on a brave face and pushed ahead. The albums biggest problem though is that it seems to play things too safe. After the commercial failure of the experimental "PASSAGE", A&M and Richard decided to go back to the Carpenters "roots". Instead, the overall result falls short of even the halcyon days of "CLOSE TO YOU", and sounds generic and bland at times.
However, there ARE some moments of the old Carpenters brilliance to be found.. The albums biggest hit "Touch me when we're dancing" is a sensual confection wrapped in a great vocal performance by Karen and Richard with a great sax solo by Bob Messinger (it also was to be their first and last top 20 hit of the 1980's). "Strength Of a Woman" is one of Karen's sexiest vocal performances outside of her solo album with a great hook. The country tinged lament "When it's Gone" is a whistfull, well sung lyric that Karen seems to feel as she sings, and knowing the state of things in her life at the time, she likely is. The strength of those three tracks virtualy save this album. The others range from the okay upon first listen ("I want you back in my life", "Those Good Old dreams" to the disposable (Beechwood 4-5789, a favorite of Karen's, but it is no "Please Mr. Postman") The rest are not very memorable and do not stick with you after you put the LP or CD away.
Unfortunately, "Made in America" would be the last Carpenters album released in Karen's lifetime. I believe that if things had turned out differently, The Carpenters would have made another great album, and would have regained their footing. Sadly, it was not to be. As a final musical statement, "Made in America" is a anticlimax to a storied career. If your a fan, it still is a must-have. However, don't expect to find yourself listening to this over and over as you would other albums in their catalogue.