Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Mary Chapin Carpenter - Time*Sex*Love (2001)


Released May 2001

This is probably my least favourite Mary Chapin Carpenter album ( I have them all), largely because of the bombastic, typically early 2000s production, which means you have to turn it down to appreciate it (usually one wants to turn things up) and also because I feel the songs, on the whole, don't quite cut the mustard. It is very much a transitional album between the rousing country rock of the previous output and the wise, reflective material of subsequent albums. I feel Mary didn't quite know what she wanted to achieve with this album or where she was in her life. It is an album of someone whose younger days are behind them, but the placid wisdom of later years has yet to arrive.

Furthermore, as with many albums post-2000, it is way too long, at nearly seventy-four minutes, and loses artistic effect because of it. For some, it is seem as MCC's "Sgt. Pepper", her meisterwerk, and that has to be acknowledged when assessing it.


1. Whenever You're Ready
2. Simple Life
3. Swept Away
4. Slave To The Beauty
5. Maybe World
6. What Was It Like
7. King Of Love
8. This Is Me Leaving You
9. Someone Else's Prayer
10. The Dreaming Road
11. Alone But Not Lonely
12. The Long Way Home
13. In The Name Of Love
14. Late For Your Life                                    

"Whenever You're Ready" starts with a slow, atmospheric bit of Bruce Hornsby-esque piano before a chugging acoustic and drum steady beat kicks in and Mary's instantly recognisable, confident voice arrives. The powerful "la-la-la" chorus it is bit incongruous compared to the rest of the song. There is some good lead guitar and bass on here beneath the blustering production. "Simple Life" has understated verses about middle age and then it blasts into an almost Oasis-like chorus. Again, it doesn't fit with the rest of the song. "Swept Away" is a potentially effective ballad ruined by a sonorous bass line. Now I love bass, but this is just out of place. There is just no need for it on this song, certainly not as dominating as it is. So many artists/recordings fell into this mega-bass backing trap in this period. "Slave To The Beauty" is the most instantly recognisable MCC song so far, but somehow, once again the production is all wrong. This time, would you believe, the voice is muffled and too low down in the mix. What do I know, however, this is obviously how Mary wanted it so who am I to criticise it. I am just writing it as I hear it, in comparison to other albums. The string production on this track is also very similar to that which Bruce Springsteen would use on his "Working On A Dream" in 2009.

"Maybe World" starts like a Beach Boys/Mamas And The Papas tribute and progresses into an appealing song which is again somewhat let down by its overloud chorus. There are late sixties Beatles influences on here too, maybe inspired by the fact that the album was recorded in George Martin's AIR studios in London. "What Was It Like" is a sombre, reflective piano and vocal ballad. Once again, a thumping bass backing proves to be an unwelcome visitor half way through. "King Of Love" is one of the album's best offerings - an evocative Tom Petty-ish slow pace rock song. That backing is still there - deal with it, it's here to stay on this album. There is lovely violin solo on this track, however. In many places this is a beautiful song.

"This Is Me Leaving You" provides a return to that angst-ridden, relationship gone wrong, country rock of the mid-nineties. It is the most archetypal MCC so far. as a fan of the previous albums, it is one of my favourites. "Someone Else's Prayer" is a lovely, moving ballad. This one is also up there in the top few songs. The quality continues on the sombre, thoughtful "The Dreaming Road". It is as if MCC has suddenly stopped trying to give us big, contemporary, stadium-style choruses and reverts to what she knows best - moving songs with great lyrics about travel and relationships. "Alone But Not Lonely" is also an understated, quiet, reflective number.

The rock is back with the rousing, cynical "The Long Way Home", which is my favourite on the album. Lyrically, Mary is back on the old career woman observational theme. "In The Name Of Love" is also an upbeat, rousing number. "Late For Your Life" is a lovely song on which to close with.

I really ought to give this album more of a chance and try and get into more, but over the years since I have owned the album, it has never done it for me. I have to admit that listening to it again, as I write, it is growing on me. It has only taken nearly twenty years.


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