Carly Simon is the perfect yuppie pop star. Fame and money, desire and revenge, are her favorite subjects, and when she sings of suburban Connecticut or the view over Central Park, you know it isn’t as a tourist. Neither is it too hard to sense a yuppie’s ambition in her work, as her writing reaches for the sort of resonant angst associated with the stories of Raymond Carver and Ann Beattie.
A noble ambition, sure, but not one that’s likely to be realized when your sense of characterization is more along the lines of a Dewar’s Profile, as Simon’s is. Consider the cast she trots out for this album: The cheating husband of “The Wives Are in Connecticut,” “so sly, he’s in love with his lies,” who worries that his wife is carrying on the same way at home (such irony); “My New Boyfriend,” who “loves the living daylights out of me”; and, of course, the title’s “Spoiled Girl,” who “thinks of nothing but herself.” These aren’t characters, these are clichés, and the only feeling they’re likely to elicit in the listener is annoyance that Simon keeps on about them. Although better she should sing about them than about herself, if the fatuous, narcissistic “Interview” (“I answered him with humility”) is any indication of that alternative.
All of which makes it rather ironic that, lyrics aside, Spoiled Girl is Simon’s most listenable album in years. Thanks to production by Arthur Baker, Paul Samwell-Smith and Don Was, there’s enough verve and contemporaneity to the basic tracks so that Simon’s laconic phrasing seems newly energized, while the tracks produced by Phil Ramone and Andy Goldmark manage to convincingly update Simon’s old approach. But such studio gloss is no compensation for an album that’s so utterly inconsequential. In the end, as with any other spoiled girl, you just wish she’d be quiet.