Records and the music they convey should always be personal. That’s an ideal, even if we know that most efforts don’t even think of subscribing, commercial entertainment now having its eye more on the bottom line than driven by erratic passions. Often the emotion is fake posturing. But recordings and performances should always be a window into the soul of the artist, a window into someone’s naked feelings opened as widely as possible. Some records are more connected to personal events, still encouraging visitors. Sometimes they can become agonizingly personal, so that when we listen we feel like unwitting voyeurs. It’s often said of the most intense artists that their daily life is just the laboratory for what they will create. Life is source material. So life has to be lived publicly.
Some artists don’t hover in such rarified atmosphere, but live in our town on our streets. Carmel, singularly and collectively, would only be with us on the streets. It’s a truism that people write the best and most passionate love songs when they’re down. It’s All In The Game wasn’t their song, but the guard was lowered. You hear it and you connect. What rose from their hurt generated a most passionate and singular record. In such circumstances, you can come out with indulgent mush, but this time the result was one of their most distinctive records ever.
The production of this single didn’t have news-worthy surroundings, nor any rock+roll misbehavior, nor any moody pyrotechnics. But Carmel were riding high in chart terms at the time and so for this crucial single we had full call on any production resources we needed (including London’s highest rated mixer Julian Mendelsohn, a suggestion from A&R man Tracy Bennett which I was happy to accept, and a ranking with which I concurred). The single wasn’t a smash hit, although it did pretty well. But it sounds to me among the best recordings the group has ever delivered.
The music was developed in a curiously contrary way. Although the group had embraced Johnny Folarin and absorbed the African percussion sound into their style, the original demo had worked very successfully off a simple machine-driven pattern of sampled congas. Although it seemed good music to me, Johnny was there on the session at the start, and I assumed that he was part of the basic equation. He wasn’t as I discovered after a frustrating couple of hours trying to lay down the simple percussion refrain live, which demanded correspondingly frustrating restraint from Johnny and his playing.
Once we acknowledged the paradox of the mechanical basis of the recording, all went well, and Johnny’s contribution as usual humanized the machine backbone. The sessions went to smoothly and pleasantly that I barely remember them. The overall effect is hypnotic, with an ever-present keyboard hook that might have been sequenced but, given the technical competence of keyboard player Ugo Delmirani, was played throughout. The basic track is almost unadorned. Simplicity works.
But I do remember this pinnacle of Carmel’s vocal technique and the coalescing of many influences that shaped the group’s music. The huge, immaculate vocal textures are a technical high for her, and it’s curious that we mixed them heavily favoring the high harmonies rather than the tune, as was the more conventional approach, shades of gospel and old Motown. Julian had handed me the balance task for these layers, a task made easier by his impeccable enhancements of all the vocals.
The recording was done in London during the splintering of the long-term relationship of Carmel and Jim, functionally lead singer and bass player of the three core musicians. Their personal distress shows not in the practical sloppiness that often comes through distraction by personal, non-work-related issues. It is reflected in the intensity and pain that this classic song must invoke whenever it is relayed, and which may be delivered at cost. This performance gives all that is required, and more besides. Beyond that, it’s a classic pop record taking and extending the original version by Marvin Gaye. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, but sometimes they don’t go down. Carmel flew.
As did Jim in his bass solo on the long version. There is such a necessary disconnect between the finished record and moods in the studio which can be influenced by anything from indigestion to hard drugs, clear to all those involved at the time. But the listener of the published recording has to get the plot without necessarily knowing the mechanics of its creation or any background whatsoever. I can still remember the expression on Jim’s face as he played his double bass solo. Listening to the track, you feel his pain without being burdened with or distracted by the personal details. That’s an example of the creative use of trouble. Would that it could be that easy and that hard, and especially that productive, all of the time.
And yet they all lived happily ever after.
And remained good friends.
Which doesn’t make for very good copy for a showbiz kiss-and-tell story, but it sometimes happens that way. Sometimes people are still nice to each other in our contemporary, crisply-defined corporate world.
- MT October 18 2003
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