Monday, September 11, 2006


Finally got around to the new Paul Simon album, and am mighty glad that I did. To be honest, I wouldn't rate this album as high as either of the two album's that are, for me, Simon's high-water mark as a solo artist - Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints. But it's close, and a sizable leap ahead of his last effort, the OK-but-not-special You're the One. Much hay has been made out of the influence Brian Eno had here, and a lot of that talk is fair; there are certain sounds here that have never been heard in a Paul Simon album. But I think it would be a mistake to downplay Simon's own songwriting achievements here; this is a wonderfully mature album, one that, for all of the sonic inventiveness and non-traditional touches, both in the production and the songwriting, decidedly does not sound like an older artist trying to sound younger. The lyrics, even the weary, settled melodies themselves, have an older feel to them, a sense of history and experience that's entirely appropriate. "How Can You Live in the Northeast?," the opening track, is probably the standout here - there's a great sense of unresolved tension and unsettledness to the arrangement, and a surprisingly muscular, almost hard-rock sensibility over the verses. Other standouts include the wistful "Everything About It Is a Love Song," the pained-but-hopeful "Wartime Prayers," and the delicately beautiful "Beautiful." One thought that occurred to me often in listening to this album over and over is how in some ways, consciously or not, Simon is still writing for Art Garfunkel. It's hard to listen to the high falsetto notes in, for example, "Wartime Prayers" and not hear Garfunkel's thin but pure high tenor singing those notes. Or the high, exquisite main melody line in "Beautiful," which practically begs for a better sound than Simon's own pale and unornamented falsetto. Or the odd, but extremely effective background-singer style interjections in the the sweet "Father and Daughter." One wonders if the two will ever get together again for anything more than the odd mega-concert and actually record some new stuff together. I can't be the only one who thinks it would be a great idea.

Until Whenever


Roger Owen Green said...

I like the album, too. Obviously, the last song is high on my list I'll have to listen to it again more carefully. I gave it a cursory review here:
Actually, with Simon's birthday coming up next month (Oct 13), I'll be listening to a lot of his solo work soon.

Tosy And Cosh said...

Give it another listen - there's a really cool, subtle, altered-sounding high female background vocal that comes in sporadically. I'd say it's Eno's influence at work, but "Father & Daughter" was recorded a few years prior for the Wild Thornberrys film - unless he re-recorded it for this album. I'm not sure.