New album is modern-rock tribute to the Carpenters

August 14, 1994|By Craig Rosen | Craig Rosen,Billboard

With an extensive marketing plan and unlikely pairings of artists and source material, A&M Records will attempt to make "If I Were A Carpenter," its modern-rock homage to the brother-sister duo, stand out amid a flood of tribute albums.

The album, due Sept. 13, features American Music Club, Babes In Toyland, Bettie Serveert, Cracker, the Cranberries, Sheryl Crow, new A&M act Dishwalla, 4 Non Blondes, Grant Lee Buffalo, Johnette Napolitano with Marc Moreland, Redd Kross, Shonen Knife, Sonic Youth and Matthew Sweet. The acts offer their versions of such Carpenters' classics as "Top of the World," "Superstar," "Yesterday Once More" and "We've Only Just Begun."

Yet the performances are not tongue-in-cheek.

"If people on the record took it as a joke, as a kitschy thing, the tracks would have ended up sounding that way, but that's not what we wanted," says journalist Dave Konjoyan, who served as executive producer of the album with his longtime friend, producer Matt Wallace.

A&M will show its commitment to the album, which coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Carpenters' signing to the label, by issuing it in a deluxe boxed set featuring the 14 songs on seven 7-inch singles. The boxed set, like the CD, will carry a price of $14.98, but it will be released Aug. 23, a full three weeks before the CD and cassette versions. The cassette will be priced at $9.98.

In addition, the label serviced two singles to radio, although no single will be commercially available in the United States. A single of Sonic Youth's "Superstar" and Bettie Serveert's "For All We Know" went to modern rock and college radio stations Aug. 11.

Redd Kross' "Yesterday Once More" and Dishwalla's "It's Gonna Take Some Time" are also slated to go to modern rock and college radio, tentatively in September and October, respectively.

Darcy Fulmer, the music director of modern-rock radio station KROQ in Los Angeles, says her personal pick to click is the Redd Kross track. "It's a radio-friendly hit," she says.

Ms. Fulmer calls the Carpenters tribute album "a brilliant idea. I'm very impressed by the people involved in it, and it shows that people who like alternative music liked dork music when they were little, too."

As time passed, Mr. Konjoyan noted that several contemporary artists were mentioning the Carpenters as favorites.

"That was part of the seed for the idea," he says. "I was reading comments from artists that I felt were unlikely Carpenters fans, from k. d. lang and Babes In Toyland to Sonic Youth. Matt and I both felt that some people might think that was a little odd, but from our point of view it was not that strange."

When the duo conceived the idea of a Carpenters tribute album, they took the concept to A&M, the label for which the Carpenters recorded. "It made sense," Mr. Konjoyan says. "It was the first place we went to, and they were interested in it right off the bat."

Although a few artists, including Smashing Pumpkins, were unable to contribute tracks to the album because of scheduling conflicts, Mr. Konjoyan and Mr. Wallace ended up with an impressive lineup.

Aside from the logical choices, like Sonic Youth, Mr. Konjoyan and Mr. Wallace found other Carpenters die-hards. The drummer for Bettie Serveert, for example, has a shrine to the late Karen Carpenter in his bedroom, Mr. Konjoyan says.

(Carpenter, who had suffered from the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, died of cardiac arrest in 1983 at age 32.)

"One of the things our project has going for it that some of the [tribute albums] don't is that the pairing of artists and the artist being paid tribute will take some people off guard," he adds.

Mr. Sweet admits he wasn't a big Carpenters fan when he was asked by Mr. Wallace to participate. "At first, it seemed like this wacky idea, having all these new types of groups covering this music that was so hugely commercial," he says. "But once I got into it, I started realizing what many cool songs they recorded."

Mr. Sweet became so involved in the project he requested that Richard Carpenter play piano on his track. Sweet calls Mr. Carpenter a musical genius, and says, "Everybody was so excited when he came into it. You'd think it was one of the Beatles or something."

For his part, Mr. Carpenter was happy to help. "Matthew has a very pure voice," he says. " 'Let Me Be The One' works very well for him."

As for the Carpenters' influence on today's modern rock acts, he adds, "You can't be as successful as we were and not have some sort of influence on the next generation."

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