Eric Carmen – Essential (review)

Eric Carmen – The Essential (Arista/Legacy)

The most comprehensive Eric Carmen collection ever assembled – and it sounds fantastic

Most music today is consumed through lousy quality ear buds or computer speakers.  Yet, once in a while, a remaster comes along that sounds so good, you’ll want to dust off that old CD player to get the full experience.  The Essential Eric Carmen is the first two-disc collection to span the talented singer/songwriter’s entire career.  And, it’s one of those rare CDs where the sonic improvement is so noticeable, you’ll find yourself hearing things you never heard before.

The disc opens with “Get the Message,” an extremely rare track by one of Carmen’s first bands, Cyrus Erie.  That’s followed by five cuts from his influential power pop group the Raspberries.  Originally mixed to sound good on AM radio, the new remastering brings out the true punch that this band had.  “Tonight” sounds like a perfect blend of the Who and Beach Boys.

It’s the songs from Carmen’s first solo album that really benefit from the new remastering.  The French horn on “Sunrise” sounds like it’s in the room with you, while you can hear the bow on the strings on the epic “All By Myself.”  Many of the tracks reflect Carmen’s deep fascination with Brian Wilson, like the brief reference to “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” on “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again,” or the breakdown in “My Girl” that sounds like “Good Vibrations.”  These tracks really do jump out of the speakers.

His second album, Boats Against the Current, gets the biggest spotlight here, with six tracks featured.  Full of sweeping, intricate ballads, the album was a disappointment on the charts, but really shows off his true genius – this is pop music at its most intricate. “Runaway” begins softly, but ends with a string-laden coda reminiscent of Elton John’s “Love Lies Bleeding.”

Highlights of disc two include the kiss off “Someday,” the funky, doo-wop inspired “She Did It,” and the monstrous drumming of Carmine Appice on “Tonight You’re Mine.”  After a long absence, Carmen returned to the charts in 1987 with “Hungry Eyes” off the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, although the digital drums sound dated today.  The followup, “Make Me Lose Control,” was a far-superior slice of nostalgia.

The biggest surprise is a brand new Eric Carmen composition, “A Brand New Year,” his first new track in 17 years.  Fueled by cascading piano and excellent harmonies, it shows that Carmen is still capable of evoking moving melodies.  Here’s hoping there’s a full-length album in the works.  –Tony Peters