THE ALBUMS: LOUISE GOFFIN, "Kit Blue" (Asylum 6E-203). CARLY SIMON, "Spy" (Elektra 5E-506).
The singer-songstresses, as personality magazines are wont to call them, have flourished in the 1970s more than in any other decade in the history of popular music. These days, in fact, it's nearly impossible to break through to the very top of the charts solely as interpreter or stylist - Linda Ronstadt being the exception which proves the rule. (Disco is somewhat apart here: While most disco soloists are women, very few disco songs are written by women and few composers display enough individualty to warrant the consideration of a "body of work" per se.)
The women who have stood out from the crowd in recent years have been the writers whose music was uniquely suited to their own delivery, like rings crafted to fit the finger. Nobody can sing Joni Mitchell as well as she can her own songs: Few people can keep up with her eccentric rhythms and octave-leaping in any case. Stylists wisely shy away from the huskiness and irony which are an integral part of Carly Simon's best work. Several singers have tried to use Dolly Parton's material, but her own versions hang like a shadow over the new ones.
One of the few women whose songs are ideal for reinterpretation is Carole King, because of her long apprenticeship as a popgroup hack writer in the '60s. King's melodies are fairly predictable; her chord modulations fit pretty standard patterns. If you can play one King song on the piano, you can play them all. That, of course, was the idea - write "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" or "Up on the Roof" (which at the same time became one of the all-time great anthems of city life) and it'll be a cinch to sell to somebody.
King was 19 and married to her long-time (and best) collaborator Gerry Goffin when daughter Louise Goffin was born. Goffin is 19 herself now and, as prefigured by such a pedigree, has embarked upon a singing-songwriting career with her debut album, "Kid Blue."
Just as predictably, the album credits recall all those years of her mother's hanging out with the Linda Ronstadt/Carly and James gang: Danny Kortchmar, Russ Kunkel, Lee Sklar, Waddy Wachtel, Andrew Gold, Kenny Edwards, J. D. Souther, Don Henley, Peter Asher, even mama Carole.
Obviously, the background instrumentals are good. (Goffin, like her mother, plays piano.) So are the back-up vocals, and Kortchmar's production is competent, if not inspired. The entire album very nearly comes off, but fails because the music does not match the message.
Goffin's voice is stronger than her mother's, and rockier. It has even, in its too-distinct, teeth-snapping consonants and New Jersey-nasal vowels, a pubescent-punk swagger that is oddly effective. But most of the songs lack the defiance or even the full-tilt-boogie force that her voice implies. And Kortchmar's arrangements are straight from the book he's been playing out of all these years: too much harmony, too much respect for the ballad tradition.
The best number on the album is "Jimmy and the Touch Kids," a genuine high-school lament which neatly corkscrews the flight to the star-spangled roof her parents immortalized. Instead of, "On the roof's as peaceful as he can be/And there the world below can't bother me," Goffin plants her feet and says, "When I go out on the street tonight/I know everything will be alright/"Cause it feels so good to be one of the kids."
To her credit, Goffin seems to have realized the inate contradiction of this soft-punk approach, and the band which is accompanying her on tour is a much harder rocking ensemble. Perhaps her next album will show her off to better advantage.
Strangely, Carly Simon's new album, "Spy," is almost free of the formulaic "family" sound which has hobbled Goffin's. But then, Simon has always been a woman who knew her own mind.
"Spy" takes its name and general themes from an Anais Nin quote, "I am an international spy in the house of love." It is an album filled with her usual blend of ambiguous personal and extrapolated emotions and occasionally biting observations on the state of love and marriage, but musically the album is intentionally a little less polished than some of her earlier works and the toughness works very well.
There is a spark of the old Simon sass on "Pure Sin" ("Do you know what I'll do when I go out to the street?") and a full measure of that marital irony that no one else can match in "We're So Close":
He says: we can be close from afar He says: the closest people always are We're so close in our separation, There's no distance at all.
He says: what do words ever reveal? He says: in speaking one can be so false - We're so close we have a silent language, We don't need words at all.
He says: we're beyond flowers He says: we're beyond compliments - We're so close we can dispense with love We don't need love at all.
There is a new forcefulness in the arrangements, too, with solos by John Hall, David Sandborn, Mike Mainieri and Michael Bracker. Several of the songs have an insistent, thrusting rhythm which is not in the slightest disco but shares a frank sexuality with that mode.
The cover art is not as riveting as "Boys in the Trees" or "Attitude Dancing," but wide-mouth fetishists will be well served. CAPTION: Picture, CARLY SIMON: A SPARK OF THE OLD SASS WITH A MEASURE OF MARITAL IRONY.