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Carly Simon returns triumphant

Published Sep. 27, 2005

In the comparatively carefree 1970s, when Carly Simon was forging a career as a pop queen and a singer/songwriter, she once sang, "I haven't got time for the pain."

In the late 1990s, however, the pain caught up with her: Simon developed breast cancer and underwent surgery.

But her return to health, and to music, is marked by her first recording of new material in six years.

She called it The Bedroom Tapes for what turned out to be obvious reasons: Virtually the entire album was written (and some of it performed and recorded) in the bedroom of her home on Martha's Vineyard.

If music is indeed therapy, then Simon, 54, deserves praise as the Dr. Jonas Salk poster girl of

rhyme and reinstatement, because The Bedroom Tapes is impressive on several levels.

It's a touching and moving love letter to listeners everywhere about what can be accomplished in the darkest of hours. And it's proof that Simon (the winner of the 1971 Grammy for best new artist) hasn't lost her punch. Lyrically, her pen is heartbreakingly honest and biting when required. And when her melodies match that intensity, the results are nothing short of breathtaking.

So Many Stars offers the virtue of hindsight when reassessing a former love and pondering its premature death while gazing at the stars over Manhattan. It is plaintively poignant but buoyed by intriguing vocal lines and keyboards. It serves as a winning platform for Simon's little-heard falsetto.

In the especially heart-moving Scar, her illness is presented as less of a threat to her than it is to the approach of those around her. "It's after the knives and the sutures and needles, I'm left with an arrow that points at my heart," Simon sings.

Some are blatantly callous: "A man I knew once said he wanted to see me. I said I'd been sick but was on the mend. I told him a few of the overall details. He said "That's too bad' and never called again."

But another voice, perhaps Simon's own, offers appropriate encouragement: "And the night is cold as the coldest nights are. There's a wise woman, she comes from an evening star. She says "Look for the signs, you won't have to look far; lead with your spirit and follow your scar.' " Whew. You should be sitting down when you hear that one.

Simon's songwriting breadth expands in disparate directions on such songs as Big Dumb Guy and We Your Dearest Friends.

The former, with a slightly contemporary country sound, is teasing and tongue-in-cheek in its takes on prospective suitors. "Cyberman lights up, but mostly he's floppy. Computer man crashes, he's so humpty-dumpty," she smiles.

And on the latter tune, a scathing answer to former friends (and perhaps lovers), Simon pulls out all her sarcastic stops.

"We, your dearest friends are having dinner without you . . . in just another minute we'll be laughing about you," she sings.

"We're witty, and we use it to be vicious . . . to the untrained eye, it wouldn't look suspicious."

Melodically, the music on The Bedroom Tapes rarely tumbles except on Our Affair, an unfortunate choice to open the album since the melody of its verses echo Simon's 1972 hit You're So Vain, while the choruses sag with boring sameness.

Others, like Cross the River and I'm Really the Kind, benefit from funky piano and Beatlesque harmonies, respectively.

But don't expect hit singles. The Bedroom Tapes is not about individual or commercial contrivances. It's more about overall, and singularly inclusive, achievement in the face of long odds.