In the sterling years of FM radio, when it was no crime to sandwich King Crimson, Stevie Wonder, the Velvet Underground and Bessie Smith in the same set, songwriter Carole King shattered sales records with her transcendent second solo album, Tapestry. Back then, the limits of contemporary rock were defined by factors other than decibels and uptight radio consultants. The giddy success of King’s refined collection of smoky love songs promised to pave an open road of possibilities for her and her contemporaries Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro and Carly Simon.
Now, twenty-two years down the road, radio is a very different animal. Whereas the testosterone-driven ballads of Ugly Kid Joe and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are accepted on the dreaded AOR format, a woman’s place seems confined to adult-contemporary hell. King’s eighteenth album, Colour of Your Dreams, clings to the hope that the tender touch of songs that prod romantic faith needn’t be anathema — especially for a woman. Especially for a woman over forty-five.
It would be funny if King’s sly inclusion of guitar god Slash on Colour‘s “Hold Out for Love” was partly a slap at the barriers facing her generation of female musicians. Otherwise, Colour of Your Dreams shifts and murmurs with King’s resonant themes of shadowy regret, whispered apologies and pulses of the heart. “Wishful Thinking.” “Now and Forever” and the eternally hopeful “It’s Never Too Late” (for love, of course) are vintage King tunes, replete with wistful vocals encircling deceptively simple melodies. As always, she is economical with her words, preferring hints rather than handouts. Storytelling was never King’s forte, but even weaker narratives like the social critique “Tears Falling Down on Me” — alluding to both rape and the beating of Rodney King — succeed because she wisely skirts the soapbox, making her points with watery emotional brush strokes rather than bold splashes of complaint.
With the exception of an errant drum machine here and there, Colour of Your Dreams remains admirably dry of flashy attempts to recast King’s acoustic-based compositions. Not that King should have to compromise herself at all. In fact, she could be considered one of the spiritual forebears of the softly subversive underground of young female songwriters trying to break into the boys’ club of the FM band. Ironically, King’s battle for renewed recognition is frustrating testament to the bullheadedness of today’s radio programmers — who no doubt grew up owning a well-worn copy of Tapestry.