Carly Simon: Coming Around Again

Once Carly Simon joined Arista's gallery of Eighties ladies, it seemed inevitable that label head Clive Davis would make her sweat — that is, force her into some unlikely duet or load her with high-tech production, tricks that have helped revive the careers of Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick. Instead, Davis has paired her with producers and songwriters who make her relax; what's most apparent about Coming Around Again is restraint.

That is always a blessing with Carly Simon. Whenever she goes off the deep end, as with her last debacle, Spoiled Girl, her voice whines, her melodies stall, and her lyrics reek with contempt for herself and her men. The title cut on Coming Around Again — written for the movie Heartburn — gives Simon the chance to step away and deliver a cozy, soothing, even hopeful song. (Not surprisingly, it was her first Top Twenty single in years.)

The song sets the mood for the entire album. Many of the tracks progress with the same slow, tuneful strides and reflect Carly's new lyrical stance — that of an older sister or mother. In most cases, this would mean instant death with younger listeners, but Carly pulls it off, because her voice stays cool and confident. Maybe all those years of avoiding the road have paid off for her; while the other acoustic heroines of the 1970s — Carole King, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell — have frayed at the edges, Carly's voice still sounds like it's in one piece. That's why it's not such a silly idea for her to cover a song like "As Time Goes By," which, if she doesn't redefine, she at least renews with some zephyrous overtones.

Carly still blathers on sometimes; she ruins an otherwise passable remake of Joe Tex's "Hold What You've Got" with some glib spoken asides, and "Two Hot Girls (on a Hot Summer Night)" is one of Carly's most confused and cluttered songs. Still, Coming Around Again is her most consistent album since 1978's Boys in the Trees. Her career in music at this point may be just a diversion she fits in between restaurant openings, Mets games and trips to Martha's Vineyard, but Coming Around Again is a strong reminder of how refreshing a diversion Carly Simon can be.