Carly Simon

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Stephen Holden

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 482

The cover of Carly Simon's enjoyable new album is an indication of its best songs, which celebrate the body at play. Playing Possum represents a breakthrough of sorts for Simon. Earlier albums, through Hotcakes, depicted adolescent and postadolescent growing pains, family relationships and especially an aching romantic ardor. Simon's new, bolder stance was probably inevitable—it's certainly welcome—since her previous four albums have defined a slow but steady movement away from the "sensitive singer/songwriter" role toward that of "rock" songstress….

With Playing Possum, Simon has largely abandoned plaintive balladeering for a blunt style that means to be aggressively sexy. Aggressive it is—and characteristically ingratiating—but not particularly sexy except on one song, "Attitude Dancing." (p. 63)

While "Attitude Dancing" stands as the album's showstopper, six other original songs comprise the core of Playing Possum's thematic material. In "After the Storm,"… Simon promotes the domestic squabble as a tool for sexual stimulation: "And doesn't anger turn you on." "Love out in the Street" explores voyeuristic fantasy, suggesting, if not a mass orgy, at least greater sexual relaxation. In a softer style, "Look Me in the Eyes" extols the ecstasy of eye contact during sex. "Waterfall" likens lust to drowning in a waterfall. And "Are You Ticklish," an old-fashioned waltz, describes a childlike playfulness that can precede sex. The album's "heaviest" erotic song, "Slave," cowritten with Jacob Brackman, describes very straightforwardly what it's like to be madly in love. That "Slave" may be taken by some as an antifeminist statement seems to me beside the point….

Playing Possum's title cut ends the album on a sociological rather than erotic note. The song traces the history of the generation just turned 30, suggesting that its political, spiritual and utopian ideals have dissipated into a desire for the bourgeois "easy life." Simon questions whether or not "there might be something more." Like many of Simon's songs, "Playing Possum" sounds more like a well-crafted writing exercise than a fully imagined reminiscence. A somewhat similar aesthetic distance characterizes Simon's "body" songs as well as her performances of them….

Cuts like "You're So Vain" and "Attitude Dancing" represent paragons of commercial craft that command attention like wonderful new toys. It's a shame that each Carly Simon album contains only one such cut and even more of a shame that below their surfaces there is no soul, nothing to evoke the subliterate, primal responses that the greatest rock music can make happen. I suggest that Carly Simon knows "there might be something more"—it's just beginning to creep into some of her lyrics and around the edges of her voice—and is aware of the terrible risks involved in trying to find it. Playing Possum is at least good enough for a start. (p. 65)

Stephen Holden, in his review of "Playing Possum," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1975; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 189, June 19, 1975, pp. 63, 65.

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