In an attempt to regain her footing after 2008's ill-fated This Kind of Love, Carly Simon this week releases the informatively titled Never Been Gone, and it represents, alongside the recent dissolution of her 20-year marriage, the confessional hit maker's growing movement toward autonomy. One could say Simon has been looking for this all along in her personal life—but this is her business life, and Never Been Gone is out on her own family's record label, Iris Records.
Never Been Gone shouldn't have come out at all. Simon had declared that This Kind of Love, which seemed to be a surefire hit on the Starbucks imprint Hear Music, would be her last album before retiring. But sales completely tanked when Starbucks suddenly decided to get out of the music business right around the album's release, and the jilted Simon filed a lawsuit earlier this month against Starbucks seeking $5 million to $10 million for "concealment of material facts" and "unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices."
Dusting herself off, Simon retreated to her Martha's Vineyard home and did the musician's equivalent of poring over old photos after a failed relationship: she revisited her old songs. Her voice, definitely more ragged, adds to the stark sincerity of the album's mostly acoustic backing; at times, her plain phrasing even recalls Southern bluegrass singer Hazel Dickens. Album opener "The Right Thing to Do" replaces the sweetness of the original recording with warble and venom, and the enduring kiss-off "You're So Vain" has a deeper growl.
Those who never "got" Carly Simon will find much to mock in this record, but for anyone who curled up on their bed under a poster of Leif Garrett listening to the girl in the stereo speakers sing about anticipation and betrayal, Never Been Gone is another blunt, honest journal entry to devour, tinged with regret and flavored by the bitter taste of terrible coffee.