The worry with reworking the classic Carpenters recordings of the '60s and '70s is simply one of ruining a good thing. Why mess with songs that are largely considered to be perfect just as they are? This, especially in light of Karen Carpenter's tragic death in 1983. Thankfully, all of these worries are put to rest on 2018's lovingly constructed Carpenters with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Produced and recorded by Richard Carpenter at London's famed Abbey Road Studios, the album features many of the pop duo's biggest hits reworked with added arrangements by the illustrious British orchestral institution. As one would hope, Carpenter oversaw all of the album's production process from the arrangements to the recording, and yes, even to some very subtle and well-done pro-tools work to address minor inconsistencies in the original tracks that always irked him. Thankfully, none of this work mars any of the magic of original tracks, or gets in the way of his sister's crystal clear vocals, or their trademark multi-tracked harmonies. Part of the beauty of this project is that the Carpenters were always an orchestral-minded band, and songs like "Yesterday Once More," "Rainy Days and Mondays," and "I Need to Be in Love," already featured lush arrangements. Here, as on "Hurting Each Other" and "We've Only Just Begun," Richard expands the arrangements, adding extended orchestral introductions that reframe the original song with a welcome pomp and wistful gravitas. Of course, none of this would matter if weren't for Karen's voice, which remains the grounding focus of the Carpenters' sound. To some degree, her vocals have a cleaner, more immediate sound here, which works nicely with the added orchestral sheen. The Royal Philharmonic versions simply offer a way for Richard to present these songs in a fresh way that honors his sister, without losing any of the AM pop studio aesthetic that made them so compelling the first time around.
Carpenters with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Review
by Matt Collar