Carly Simon’s third album comes handsomely dressed by super-producer Richard Perry and boasts many illustrious helpers. In the degree of its intelligence and forthrightness it is the equal of its predecessors. Regardless of the quality of her songs — they range from fair to excellent — everything Carly does is likable for her radiant vocal personality. She has the whitest of white voices and uses it well, singing full throat with faultless enunciation. Her almost literal note-for-note phrasing of songs is uniquely ingenuous.
The obvious highlight of No Secrets is the hit single, “You’re So Vain,” an affectionately high-spirited putdown of a male chauvinist glamour boy: “Well I hear you went up to Saratoga and your horse naturally won/Then you flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia/To see the total eclipse of the sun/You’re where you should be all the time and when you’re not/You’re with some underworld spy or the wife of a close friend….” A medium-paced rocker with a good tune, it climaxes with a sardonic chorus, which has Mick Jagger singing unison backup: “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.” Though the idea of Carly and Mick singing together sounds incongruous, the combination turns out to be inspired alchemy, especially bracing if heard through headphones.
James Taylor’s “Night Owl” is the album’s second-best cut. Among the guests sitting in on this hard bluesy rocker are Nicky Hopkins, Klaus Voorman and Bobby Keys, with background vocals by Bonnie Bramlett, Doris Troy and the McCartneys. Of the album’s eight other cuts, five take up the subject of time — lovers’ time versus childhood time — playing variations on Carly’s favorite theme. The implicit assumption behind these songs is the difficulty of being happy, especially when in love, without over-analyzing one’s happiness so as to dissipate its intensity. The realization that emotion and rationalization are often irreconcilable is most painfully expressed in Carly’s ballad, “We Have No Secrets”:
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We tell each other everything
About the lovers in our past
And why they didn’t last
We share a cast of characters from A to Z
We know each other’s fantasies
And though we know each other better when we explore
Sometimes I wish
Often I wish
I never knew
Some of those secrets of yours.
Just as direct and personal is Carly’s childhood fantasy of her father, “Embrace Me, You Child”: “At night in bed I heard God whisper lullabies/While Daddy next door whistled whiskey tunes/And sometimes when I wanted they would harmonize/There was nothing that those two couldn’t do.” Two songs with lyrics by Jacob Brackman — “The Carter Family” and “It Was So Easy” — also look back nostalgically toward youthful innocence. With the exception of “You’re So Vain,” Carly’s lyrics are stronger than her tunes. But what finally makes No Secrets so refreshing is her singing, which conveys the finest spirit of patrician generosity.