Released only in Japan, Live in Japan is a two-record (or two-CD) set containing 24 songs. The sound quality is absolutely excellent, which is not always the case with live albums. Karen sounds wonderful, and her voice is mixed nicely above the backing vocals and instruments.
The album starts very oddly, with some feedback and dead air, a smattering of applause, the sound of some instruments warming up, and finally, after almost a minute, the announcer introducing the Carpenters. From there on, though, it is a nonstop ride with Karen, Richard and the band. The first three songs ("Superstar," "Rainy Days and Mondays" and "Goodbye to Love") are presented in a medley fashion, with "Superstar" and "Rainy Days" being a little abbreviated. The rest of side 1 is pretty straightforward, with a little chatter between a few of the songs. "Yesterday Once More" and "Hurting Each Other" are also presented in a medley format.
Side 2 is a little more exciting, as far as I'm concerned. Most of side 2 is taken up with an "oldies medley," similar to the one on the Now and Then album, but with many different songs than the album version. The vocals for the medley are all shared by Karen, Richard and Pete Henderson, and although I wish there were more Karen and less Pete, it's still fun to hear the Carpenters' take on a number of different songs. "Little Honda," "Runaway," "Leader of the Pack," Book of Love," "Shuboom," "Daddy's Home" and "Johnny B. Goode" are all recorded here for the first and only time on a Carpenters' album. "Leader of the Pack" is the only one of these new songs to have a lead vocal by Karen, but she sings backing vocals on most of the rest. Tony Peluso does his usual job as DJ here.
Also very different on this album is "Sing." Karen and Richard always had a children's choir join them onstage when singing this song, and for Live In Japan, they were joined by the Kyoto Children's Choir. What is so unusual about this perfomance is that Karen sings it in Japanese. The remaining three tracks on side 2 are all full-length versions of Carpenters' songs, done in a very straightforward manner.
One of the maddeningly irritating things about Live in Japan is that the total combined length of the two discs is under 66 minutes, which means that it could have been combined onto a single CD, and therefore sold for considerably less (most of the time I've seen it for sale in the U.S., it has been priced at over $50, whereas a single Japanese CD is usually priced in the $30 range).
In 2009, a SHM-CD version was released in Japan. The SHM-CD format is playable on any regular CD player, but it supposedly has greater audio clarity. To my ears, it sounds exactly the same (after all, ones and zeros are still ones and zeros, no matter what the material). The re-release packaging is a mini-LP sleeve with very nice artwork and liner notes, and it's this new packaging that makes the 2009 release worth getting.
Produced by Richard and Karen Carpenter
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