King's new music will inevitably be compared to Tapestry, a monolith that not even King herself can get past.
It honestly doesn't matter what Carole King releases these days, as she will keep running into the same problem every time: her material will inevitably be compared to Tapestry. For the uninitiated, Tapestry is King's 1971 masterpiece: the album that brought the singer-songwriter movement front and center into the '70s consciousness, allowing King -- who penned dozens of hits for others -- to finally shine in her much-deserved solo spotlight, while picking up Grammys and a handful of #1 songs to boot. Unfortunately, no King album since then has matched Tapestry's off-the-cuff brilliance. Even great, successful albums like the rush-released Music (which hit the same year as Tapestry) still paled in comparison to the soft-rock juggernaut that she created. So, when it comes to re-evaluating her 2001 independent effort Love Makes the World, yes -- it's going to be compared to Tapestry. The best moments (shock and awe) re-capture that Tapestry sound, and though Love Makes the World isn't essential listening, there's no denying that it's a pleasant, if not entirely satisfying, little disc.
Part of what makes Love Makes the World merely pleasant is how this disc is thematically one-note: we get love song after love song. Though this is no doubt King's strength as a songwriter, one can't help but feel that no new ideas are being tossed into the mix. These songs typify what Adult Contemporary radio has become these days, and let's face it: Adult Contemporary radio isn't a breeding ground for innovation. With that in mind, it serves as no surprise that King plays it safe, bringing in everyone from Celine Dion's super-producer friend David Foster for one song (the bland "It Could Have Been Anyone") to the actual Celine Dion for another (the wannabe power ballad "You Are the Reason"). As a matter of fact, the tracks with superstar guests come across as the weakest ones here (especially the k.d. Lang duet "An Uncommon Love"). The only collaborations that hold up to scrutiny are the mellow Babyface-assisted "You Can Do Anything" and a rock song (!) called "Monday Without You" that has a brief appearance by Aerosmith's Stephen Tyler. Next thing you know, she'll be dueting with Graham Nash …
… oh wait! She does duet with Graham Nash! Part of the inexplicable "Deluxe Edition" of Love Makes the World is a bonus disc that rounds up some very bland music videos together with a couple of unreleased tracks, including -- yes -- a duet with Graham Nash called "Two Hearts". The five bonus songs are not really worth much attention, except the upbeat "Where You Lead, I Will Follow", a duet with her daughter that got picked up as the theme song to the Gilmore Girls. Though the song still sounds better in 30-second title sequence form, it shows that a focused King is a consistent King, something that the bonus disc doesn't really highlight.
Yet, with all of these leanings towards radio-staple stability, there are still some very good songs embedded within the album. "Love Makes the World" is one of the best songs King has recorded in years, an obvious candidate for the eventual Greatest Hits-package. Riding a minimalist piano melody, the song seems to sit back while King's voice takes center stage, and -- especially in contrast to the rest of the album -- it's a breath of fresh air. "I Don't Know" begins drifting into Marc Cohn territory, but its playful lyrical themes elevate it above the clichéd sentiments of "The Reason" and "I Wasn't Gonna Fall in Love". Though closing number "This Time" tries a bit too hard to sound "soundtrack-ready", it's the simple, gorgeous "Oh No Not My Baby" that steals the show. Why? Because not only does this sound like a Tapestry-era chestnut, but it's just as focused as anything from her early-'70s output. Though her producers may keep trying to surround her with the latest soft-rock studio trickery, all King ever needs is a piano and microphone to make the magic happen.
If any album in King's catalog needs the "Deluxe Edition" treatment, it certainly shouldn't be Love Makes the World. Yet, as it is, it's still a solid release from an artist who hasn't lost touch with what made her great in the first place. Nothing she makes will ever live up to Tapestry, and you know what? Carole King is perfectly fine with that.