Its always sad when a decent brand takes a wrong turn, but it happens and this week the arrival in one of my weekend papers of a free copy of the Carly Simon album Never Been Gone, first released in 2009, was one of those moments.
I’ve received a few free albums in the same way recently, but, though it’s always tempting to conclude that artists distribute their music this way only when it’s so bad they can’t sell it, it’s usually been an element of an integrated campaign to support a tour or event, which is how, in today’s music industry where the role of albums and concerts have been reversed, the real cash is made. Until now that is. This time I can’t help concluding that this is a bandwagon too far for Carly.
Performers are brands as much as anything else and therefore subject to the same rules. Giving away things like CDs works to help strengthen the relationship – Brandship – with fans, but when the album is this bad it has to be wrong. Never Been Gone is bad on a number of levels. The songs are largely really bad, down-keyed arrangements of old material, the production isn’t very inspiring. I’m also afraid, and this is probably the crunch, that Carly is definitely not the girl she was. The cosmetic surgery is a bit of a give-away, but though many of her era are miraculously still hitting the high notes, sadly she isn’t, by a wide margin in some cases. As a concert ticket sales tool this seems to me to be a shot in the foot, but worse than that, it could very easily herald the death of the Carly Simon brand, which surely had mileage left in the tank.
The disappointing thing is that faced with the need or opportunity to leverage the Carly Simon brand one more time, there are other better options that wouldn’t have resulted in such a dramatic failure to deliver the brand promise. Never Been Gone sounds like a performer in an old folks home. The arrangements are, at best, dreary and often just awful and the whole thing fails to showcase what has always been her strongest trait – writing. It could have been so different. Why not, for example present her work in new arrangements delivered in collaboration with contemporary artists? At least this would demonstrate that good songs live longer than their composers and could have driven a promising touring show.