This album was a considerable departure for the siblings and contained experimental material such as the Klaatu cover "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" single—which reached no. 32 in the US but was a top ten hit in much of the world (and prompted numerous letters to the Carpenters asking when World Contact Day was scheduled). Ironically, the album's release predated Steven Spielberg's similarly themed film Close Encounters of the Third Kind by one month. Nonetheless, the album was the group's first to fall short of gold standard in the US.
This is the only Carpenters album (aside from their Christmas albums) not to contain a Richard Carpenter or John Bettis song and also the second album to not have Karen playing drums at all.
Prior to the album's recording, a search was made for a new Carpenters producer, prompted by the band's decreasing popularity and Richard Carpenter's struggle with production duties (caused by his addiction to sleeping pills). However, according to Richard Carpenter, "not one major producer would sign on; radio was not quite as friendly at that time to our type of sound and to be honest, my track record on the whole was a tough act to follow. Accordingly, I remained producer, but I did try to approach this new project from a different angle, hence my selection of songs for this album made Passage a bit of a departure from our previous recordings."
Richard Carpenter recalled that "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" was "submitted to us by the publisher, and I immediately felt it was perfect for Karen, though now I feel differently, as I believe the song doesn't linger long enough in a lower register, a great area for Karen's voice. We contacted England's late, great Peter Knight to orchestrate the song, and two others on Passage. Peter flew to Los Angeles to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the recording. (Due to a contractual agreement their name was not allowed in the credits, hence the credit of the "Overbudget Philharmonic"). Between the 100-plus member "Phil" and the 50-voice Gregg Smith Singers, the recording session had to take place on the A&M Sound Stage and was then wired into Studio D."
AllMusic has retrospectively described the Carpenters' effort as "admirable even if most of the results aren't memorable or essential." However, "All You Get from Love Is a Love Song" was described as, "much more memorable...had a beat that one was accustomed to."