Rumer’s New Album: Why Does She Sound Like Karen Carpenter?

I have spent the morning listen to Rumer’s new album – Boys Don’t Cry. It’s a really pleasant sounding record – besides the one factor we all know – she sounds like Karen Carpenter. The 50 Million dollar question is not so much how, but WHY?

Is it –

a) She is plain and simple just heavily influenced by her in terms of vocal style and to a lesser extend image

b) Her record company are aware of the massive ‘Middle America’ market that The Carpenters tapped into – and are attempting to use a similar formula.

The above factor extends beyond the natural tonal qualities of Rumer’s voice, to the instrumentation and production of her music. For example, her new single includes a similar ’70s style’ guitar solo to The Carpenters’ Goodbye To Love, also including similar use of woodwind orchestration.

The reality is that the WHY is probably a mixture of both of these factors – but make no mistake about it, there is a heavy dose of point number 2 – we as audiences are being manipulated via a proven formula!

It’s also interesting to note that listening to artists like Rumer, who are so overtly based on another artist who have proven success (musically and visually), it also has the added dimension of encouraging older and younger audiences to listen to the ‘real thing’ – providing new interest in a back-catalogue that may be forgotten. In many respects this is similar to the process of what happened post British R&B explosion, with The Beatles, The Stones, Clapton, and Beck et al. encouraging many listeners (like me) to listen to Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, etc.

So – thought for today. Enjoy music such as Rumer’s new record. I will continue to listen to it cos it has loads of ‘good tunes’. However – don’t forget to have half an eye on the Simon Cowell factor – our musical preferences are manipulated by THE MACHINE.

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
This entry was posted in Musicology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to Rumer’s New Album: Why Does She Sound Like Karen Carpenter?

  1. She was doing these songs the same way for YEARS before she even had a record company. If you know anything about Rumer, you know that she doesn’t get manipulated by ANYONE.

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  2. What an insult to Rumer – That she is being “manipulated” into being someone else. Karen Carpenter was one of the most brilliant singers who ever lived, but if she were trying to break into music today there would be (sadly) VERY little chance of her making it. If this review had been written in 1974, your points would possibly be valid. Rumer is definitely swimming UPSTREAM in today’s market, which takes guts and a great sense of self. Your implication is the exact opposite of what the truth is.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Paul, sorry can’t agree with you on your key assumption here; and speaking frankly, I don’t think you’ve you made much of an argument for your Ms Joyce is a “pale-Karen C” case anyway. Saying something is “this way” and not “that way”, without actually providing any evidence thereof (such as breaking down song by song on the new album just where you think Ms Joyce and her production people have made conscious decisions to mirror or homage Carpenter-esque stylings) just isn’t sufficient and if I were you teacher, with all due respect, I’d be telling you to have another attempt. Wish you’d brought the same degree of scholarship to this topic as you obviously have to the other posts on this blog (which I’m sure I’ll enjoy reading and telling my music buddies about anyway). I’d like a chance to do a more considered rebuttal to your stance; but maybe it’s more appropriate to do that elsewhere. I would however suggest you take another listen to say Flying Shoes – that song is actually incredibly sad and serious. I think Ms Joyce’s intent on this album as she has said in several interviews now, is to try and probe more deeply into a range of male understandings of love and loss. Again, if you listen to her interview, I think’s she a lot smarter and has a lot integrity than you give her credit for. Ultimately people in the public are constructed realities anyway and hence our interpretations are subject to what we bring to them. Perhaps musical criticism can only serve a useful purpose up to a point and then the heart takes over.

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  4. William says:

    Who is Karen Carpenter?

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  5. Alan Boardman says:

    What a cynical review. Its a sad place you find yourself in if you enjoy a piece of work so much but can’t get past the politics. Rumer has been around for quite a while (she is 33 today) so she is hardly an overnight sensation based on her being some knd of soundalike. Just enjoy her for what she is!

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  6. Frank Wallder says:

    What a shallow pratt! Rumer has a natural pure voice which happens to have a pitch and cadence that happens to be similar to Karens. You only have to watch her live (or film of) to know she’s not trying to copy anybody. It’s impossible to produce that quality trying to replicate the original, You can’t compare her work to the aspirations of so many modern wannerbes who have no talent.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    What a load of rubbish! Rumer chose the songs herself and she talked the record company into letting her record them – not the other way round. She is a unique person with a versatile voice that is HER’S and HER’S alone. She has highlighted records that had been ‘binned’ and brought life to them. She is always conferring with her fans, and we know what she is like. Her music is her life and she has worked damn hard to get where she is. No X-Factor for her. She is strong and has dictated to the record company about where she does her concerts, and they allow it as they know she is unique and will be around for life.

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  8. carza says:

    Thanks for the comments everyone – even the guy who called me a ‘shallow pratt’!!. Firstly just to confirm – I LOVE RUMER’S Music. I am not attempting to place any slant on her ability as an artist. I like the music very much and have respect for her as a singer – BUT:
    I have used Rumer as an indicative example of how not her – but her audience (i.e me and you) can be, and often are manipulated by the record industry. Anyone who thinks the process of ‘audience manipulation’ does not happen is simply denying the truth I am afraid. The post was not meant to be an academic one – but if anyone wants to get into academic underpinning to this argument – the best place to start is probably Adorno’s concept of Standardization – see here for a basic description (http://grebelweb.uwaterloo.ca/swood/readings/adorno%20popular%20music.htm). There are lots of other texts I could give – but that was not the point of the post.
    To respond to some of the comments directly, and to repeat – I am not saying that she is being manipulated – but that we are (and I am including myself in this)!! Anyone who knows the Carpenters music well, and listen to Rumer’s music cannot argue that there is more than a passing influence there – and the record company have some control over accentuating it. Just place Rumer + Karen Carpenter into Google – it is all over the net. What I am saying is that despite the high quality of Rumer’s music (I love her new album) – to ignore the fact that it is part of an industrial system – when ‘consumers’ are targeted in order to sell product is just crazy.

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  9. “You have chosen the worst possible example” – EXACTLY, Frank Wallder!

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  10. Brenda J. Lawrence says:

    But Paul, sir, some of us LIKE the Bacharach/MOR sound. Some of ENJOY the horn section. The instrument/production/formula works well here, no, beautifully to complement Rumer’s rich vocal tones. Don’t you think hiphop has a formula too? If this is manipulation by the record company machine….then I hope they keep on manipulating me right into oblivion, as I continue to listen and trance out….joyfully…to the very classy, and successful, Rumer.

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  11. carza says:

    Good point Brenda. I feel like that too sometimes – and yes – hip hop – indeed the vast majority of music is formulaic – some good (like Rumer) and some bad. The point I was trying to make (obviously not very successfully) was a Marxist one – we just need to be aware that we are manipulated – and sometimes that naffs me off! Like some people have already said – perhaps I could have chosen a better example.

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  12. Bill says:

    I agree with most of what you’ve written Diane. However, I disagree wholeheartedly that Karen would have had NO chance to make it today. Why not? Talent is talent; the era does not matter. Her voice would still have been great. Plus, she would have drawn raves for her drumming. A pretty, singing drummer who may also have continued playing the bass? Sounds like a recipe for success to me. Also, if we assume that her personality would have been the same, don’t forget about her drive and work ethic.

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  13. Jay says:

    Carpenters fan here. She got a great voice of her own. No need to associate with Karen Carpenter for no one will be as great as my Karen 🙂

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  14. Patrick says:

    Wow, the comment response here has been bit vicious. When I saw Rumer on the Later…with Jools Holland show last night, my first thought was ‘wow, she sounds like Karen Carpenter’. So this morning I googled it and hit this site. I think Paul’s musings are just that, no need to take it personally. And as far as the music machine, well there is ample evidence that the music industry tries very hard to manipulate all artists to be as marketable as possible.

    Come in here, dear boy, have a cigar, you’re gonna go far…

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  15. Pingback: Les Paul and Mary Ford: is it still possible to be successful and truly experimental? | Paul Carr Musings

  16. Alex says:

    It’s funny because I just listened to the radio and it was playing Accentuate the Positive. I didnt know who was singing but I said to myself I think I know that voice it sounds just like Karen Carpenter. Then I searched google and found your article.

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  17. Like Rumer? Come join our fan group (where Karen is revered, as she should be.) If you’ve only heard a few Rumer songs, you are missing a LOT! (Her recordings are not at all formulaic!) https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rumer-Worldwide-Fans/467664746637818?fref=ts

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  18. Bill – I hope you are right that KC WOULD have made it today. I just don’t give people much credit for brains when it comes to the music industry today!

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  19. Ian Grace says:

    Hi, I read the article…… read the (shocking) comments…… and had to read it again to see if I had missed something. I didn’t get the same impression from the article as others, point taken from Paul Carr and it would be one in later years I would be interested to hear Rumers’ musings on – however much we try to deny, explain or excuse it, Rumer has an appeal, a target audience for the marketing dept to focus on. It might be distasteful to some and not to others, but the lovely Sarah is being marketed just as any other artist. Doesn’t really concern me at all, I put on her cd’s and listen to the music and everything else fades into the background. I don’t think anyone can deny her voice has similarities to KC’s, nor that she is a unique and individual artist – there can be no doubting that Rumer appeals to an older listener than she does to Teenagers – not saying that it is right or wrong, just that it is. I think ‘shallow pratt’ is way-out-of-line and deserves an apology or a retraction – preferably both.

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  20. carza says:

    Thanks Ian. Like you – I really like Rumer’s music. At the time I wrote the post her music simply pointed toward a few things I was thinking about related to manipulation by the music industry – as you say – these are facts – not opinion! I did not intend to naff anyone off – but I suppose that is the power that music can hold over us 🙂

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  21. It would have been nice if you could have proven your point without singling out an artist who has NEVER “sold out” as they said back in the old days. Rumer is an artist, not a karaoke singer. We know about marketing and demographics and all of that – Anyone with half a brain knows THAT – But why pick on an up and coming artist like Rumer? There are plenty of copycats out there today that you could have used as examples. Was she influenced by the Carpenters? Yes. Burt Bacharach? Yes. She lists many other artists as influences as well. She just happens to have a very similar timbre and range as KC. Educate yourself and listen to her work with “Stereo Venus” or ” La Honda” – A VERY different sound. I personally see her in the tradition of solo John Lennon – She writes intensely personal (and sometimes overwhelmingly painful) lyrics with great melodies. Give the lady an apology!

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  22. carza says:

    You are totally missing my point Diane. I am not talking about ‘Rumer’ – I am talking about the record industry. I chose her because I so happened to be listening to her album – and it resonated with with certain FACTS about the record industry. I used her as an indicative example. I am sorry if I have offended anyone – that was not my intention – but I stand by what said – the record industry manipulates public taste in order to sell records etc. She – and us are cogs in a machine. Read some Karl Marx – then you will see where I am coming from.

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  23. I know all about Karl Marx, thank you. Just because I don’t appreciate your use of Rumer’s name here doesn’t mean that I am ignorant. (Your comment about “reading some Marx” is arrogant – If I don’t appreciate what you have written then I must be uneducated?) If you were not talking about Rumer. then why use her name at all? She is the EXACT opposite of the type of artist you describe here. She would tell her record company to take a flying leap if they ever tried to turn her into a “cog”. She makes her own decisions, and is stubborn enough to stand by them.

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  24. Ian Grace says:

    Diane………please!!!!! Let’s just calm down here for a moment, this is all so unnecessary, you are reading into this far more than you should and there is no intent – if I may address things from what I consider to be the the perspective of Paul Carr – to offend Rumer fans in particular, Rumer herself or anybody for that matter. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, the music industry is a fairly cut-throat business – if Rumer doesn’t sell records then she fades away. Her music is great, she is individual, unique etc. but in business terms she is now on the ‘treadmill’ – others working for and on her behalf are targeting her music to specific audiences, specific countries, specific age-groups. As much as we try and romanticise music and its appeal, if Rumer doesn’t work on the P&L sheet for the nasty record companies then she is history, they are there to make vast amounts of money primarily. If anything I would suggest that her perceived individuality and quite odd in the proper sense (but welcome) musical tastes has a marketing appeal in its own right. To reiterate, nothing about this really concerns me, the strength of her music and the beauty of her voice made me rush like a teenager to a Pub in South East London when she was just breaking through for a Charity night gig (Jambalaya on the bayou if I recall!!!!!) which I recall had some onsite catering which didn’t cater too well for vegetarians(!) and ever since then I have been a fan of her music. She is mine and not yours!!!! Landing back on Earth though, the record companies want to widen her appeal, every artist is a cog in a machine, we all are to some extent!! Anyway peace and have a great day!

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  25. here is the original quote to the blog to which I am responding:

    “I have spent the morning listen to Rumer’s new album – Boys Don’t Cry. It’s a really pleasant sounding record – besides the one factor we all know – she sounds like Karen Carpenter. The 50 Million dollar question is not so much how, but WHY?

    Is it –

    a) She is plain and simple just heavily influenced by her in terms of vocal style and to a lesser extend image

    b) Her record company are aware of the massive ‘Middle America’ market that The Carpenters tapped into – and are attempting to use a similar formula.

    The above factor extends beyond the natural tonal qualities of Rumer’s voice, to the instrumentation and production of her music. For example, her new single includes a similar ’70s style’ guitar solo to The Carpenters’ Goodbye To Love, also including similar use of woodwind orchestration.”
    ————————————————————————————————–

    My response:
    First off —I found Rumer and her music on MySpace long before she had a record deal, when she was trying out songs. It was magical. The songs were incredible!

    Then the album SEASONS OF MY SOUL came out which happens to be mostly original material. It became a surprise hit.

    When I first heard Rumer I heard a songwriter working through her own emotional world – writing and singing songs. I was mesmerized by that voice and by her songwriting….

    Now to get to the point of your question.
    Many of Rumer’s fans seem to connect with her as a Carpenter sound-a-like.
    Rumer, herself, actually likes and enjoys the singing style of Karen Carpenter. She has said in interviews that she learned a lot about singing listening to them. It makes sense I guess that one would think Rumer sounds like Karen Carpenter since they both sing in a lower register.

    Personally, I never liked or ever connected to the Carpenters’ music. I found / find it dull and contrived… created to air on am pop radio.

    So my answer to your question of ‘why does Rumer sounds like Karen Carpenter?’… I say it depends on where you come from when you listen to Rumer. For me, I hear pure Rumer.

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  26. carza says:

    Thanks William – that is the way I have got into lots of music. In fact it’s a really ‘post modern’ phenomena to listen and appreciate music which is somehow cut off from its sources. Anyway I have decided to draw a line under this post now. As stated – I have not intended to offend anyone – and hope everyone continues to enjoy Rumer’s music.

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  27. William – I agree that when I listen to Rumer, I hear Rumer. I think that the more exposed you are to her music, the more you appreciate how unique she is.

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  28. Linda Lambert says:

    She may have a sound like KC, but she sings 1930’s music soooo well too. She lists Judy Garland as a great influence. No matter how old, or new, the music is, it has to be influenced by someone/something! I love the way she as brought to life forgotten and ‘binned’ songs, introducing us to writers a lot of us don’t know. Rumer is Rumer, we love her as a person as all as a singer. Go Rumer!

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  29. Ian Grace says:

    Rumer has a unique appeal, her voice to me is reminiscent of Karen Carpenters’ which is the highest praise I can give, other than a Streisand comparison which would not be accurate anyway.
    Heard another talented duo yesterday when watching some of the Glastonbury coverage -First Aid Kit – definitely worth a listen if you like that sort of thang.

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  30. To Paul Carr – I want to apologize for the tone that I took yesterday. I am sorry for losing it with you. (I am normally not that reactionary.) To boil it down, I believe that the statement you made which I found disrespectful to Rumer is this: ” Artists like Rumer, who are so overtly based on another artist who has proven success…” If you are an avid follower of Rumer, you know that she has had MANY musical influences, all of which she gladly acknowledges. She is a uniquely gifted artist who is VERY much more interested in her art than in commercial success. “Overtly based on another artist” is what stuck in my craw. That said, I shouldn’t have gotten so sarcastic with you. Once again, I apologize.

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  31. carza says:

    That’s ok Diane – no problem. As stated – it was not my intention to annoy anyone.

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  32. Ian Grace says:

    I believe that the statement you made which I found disrespectful to Rumer is this: ” Artists like Rumer, who are so overtly based on another artist who has proven success…”

    Now that you have highlighted that Diane I see you have a point…… Paul you are nothing but a ………… 🙂 lmao, let’s all enjoy the Sunshine. Travelled a lot yesterday but the vehicle I was in only had a tape player so I didn’t get to listen to my First Aid Kit cd………. told the story to my last Client of the day…… and he started raving about them, he is going to see them in concert next week and has indirect links to the girls. I hope I like the CD anyway….. when I get to hear it!!!! Good weekend all.

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  33. Thank you for your comment affirming what I was trying to say, Ian. 🙂

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  34. Ian Grace says:

    LOL Diane, all tongue in cheek, have a great weekend – Rumer would do well to tap into KC’s mesmeric success, she certainly appeals to the older listener in my view – in horrible terms that is the market she needs to appeal to. Beautiful voice nevertheless and I love her first two albums.

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  35. See you over at RWWF, Ian!

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  36. BarryT60 says:

    Gosh – I hate to pile on to old messages on this older blog entry… however, dang – bad bad comparisons to Karen here. Sure some of her tonal qualities are reminiscent to Karen Carpenter, however, the musicality and arrangements of the material on said album are almost opposite of what I would sat were the hallmarks of a carpenters recording. Lots of acoustic guitars… swingy beats, jazzy interpretations… I actually was enticed to go take a listen and buy a few songs, if they indeed did sound like Karen and Richard – but was amazed at how different they really were! You may be making valid points as they pertain to some of the homogenized pop crap that is on the airwaves today – however with this artist – I think the manipulation you speak of – is non-existent – particularly, when compared to the total package of the Carpenter sound.

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  37. Papa says:

    The last thing rumer is, is unique. Let’s be honest here and stop beating around the bush protecting artists that you like. Rumer tries her very best to sound like Karen carpenter from the style of music to the tempo and sentiment of the music and the singing style and tone of voice is nothing but a carbon copy ( a weak carbon copy) of the carpenters. Are you honestly going to say in your heart of hearts that she is not heavily influenced and tries her best to sound just like the Carpenters if so you are not even being honest to yourself

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  38. George says:

    Very late to this particular party but I’ve only recently heard Rumer and have been checking her out online, specifically because I find her music so dire that I am trying to get a handle on her appeal.

    Yes she sounds like KC, but a synthetic, lifeless, vanilla version. KC was arguably THE greatest female ‘pop’ singer. Her voice was not only technically magnificent, but it was embed with magic and true soul. Some of her material was a little saccharine for my taste, but at her best she was unimpeachable. Rumer by contrast sounds like elevator music, her voice efficient but her delivery strangely lifeless and emotionally barren. I’ll be happy to never have to listen to it again, to be honest. It is so weirdly bland that it makes me uneasy just hearing it. The Stepford Wives Karen Carpenter.

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  39. Ian Grace says:

    Hi George – ‘elevator music?’ Hmmmmm where have I heard that phrase before? You sound like a jilted partner tbh, ok she doesn’t float your boat but she does for others…….

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  40. true i agree with george!! watered down version of karens soulful and tht certain sence of sadness (rainy days..only yesterday solitare superstar.) that was in her voice

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  41. That is not me commenting above as “George”. But like him I have no problem distinguishing between Karen and Sarah. I occasionally hear the Karen resemblance – at present I think of “One Less Bell to Answer” where Sarah opens up and sings out some more. Of course Karen was a better all round musician and more versatile and expressive – but she was a superstar. This simply means that Sarah has somewhere to grow and there are signs she is doing just that. I love Sarah’s choice of repertoire, and will be interested to watch her progress.

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