Carly Simon Debra Rae Cohen - Essay

Debra Rae Cohen

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

All too often on Spy, the small, significant personal questions that the songwriter is capable of asking are obscured by a lascivious "Does she or doesn't she?" Even the Rolling Stones-style backup vocals on the catchy "Pure Sin" can't rescue its central oxymoron from tedium, because the extremes simply aren't that interesting. Though Simon's not the artistic wallflower she presents in "Memorial Day" …, she's no rakish hot mama either. Indeed, the dreary mock twang of "Coming to Get You" reminds me of academicians who write in dialect.

All of this cartoons-for-adults posturing doesn't disguise the fact Simon gives away very little of herself on Spy. She's always been of two minds about exposure: a confessional singer with patrician reticence. Her best songs, from "No Secrets" to "In Times When My Head" (and the new record's gem, "We're So Close"), have transmuted and exploited this conflict, simultaneously serving as rueful commentary on her own reserve while homing in on the role of honesty in love….

Simon's quite aware of her potential as gossip fodder—remember "You're So Vain"?—but she's forfeiting emotional intensity now by offering hints, rather than insights, about her marriage. Perhaps that's why [some lines] … have an air of calculated self-exposure that makes Carly Simon, in her trench coat, seem more like a flasher than a spy.

Debra Rae Cohen, "Carly Simon's Trench-Coat Flasher: 'Spy'," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1979; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 301, October 4, 1979, p. 58.