On Come Upstairs, Carly Simon's instincts are bold, but her music betrays her. Confronting a self-imposed semiretirement, declining disc sales and the pervasive peppiness of the New Wave, Simon has responded with a comely perversity by writing a batch of new songs that are either loose and trashy or tight and morose. Neither of these hybrids has much to do with what's moving in record stores these days, and the tunes suffer from the poor job that producer Mike Mainieri does of approximating the Doobie Brothers' creamy coolness.
As a result, the current album is so confused and boring that it almost sounds resigned to its own aesthetic failure. Come Upstairs commences with some promisingly slick, bitchy pop (the title track, "Stardust"), then quickly sheds its allure with witless paranoia ("Them") and ballads oozing with clichéd imagery ("Jesse," "James"). The peak of discomfort is "In Pain," in which Carly Simon (who's spent a career proving that she can be aggressive and vulnerable with equal ferocity) falls apart in the service of primal Muzak, yowling: "Pain, in pain/I'm in pain."
The awful thing is that you can't believe her for a second.