Tuesday, April 26, 2011
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: PAUL SIMON - SO BEAUTIFUL OR SO WHAT
That could be the question about Simon's career, at least for the non-believers. I'm a drop-dead fan for most, but even I've had trouble at some points in his career, most notably The Capeman debacle and the One Trick Pony movie/soundtrack. And while his last one, 2006's Surprise, had lots of enjoyable moments, it failed to connect with his normal broader audience. Still, I can name you a few people who say Paul Simon is their very favourite artist.
So what do you want from Simon? Another Graceland? More songs in the Duncan/Still Crazy After All These Years/The Boxer style? How about a bouncy Kodachrome/Mother And Child Reunion rewrite? Screw that, there's enough Greatest Hits now, I'd rather have him stretch some more, and see if a new kind of gem emerges.
That, dearest darlings, is exactly what we have here. Ignore those early reviews about this being a return to 70's songwriting, I don't have a clue how anybody can hear that. Instead, it seems a logical progression in his production style, using lots of snippets, grooves and found sounds, clever touches and intricate ensemble pieces. Simon since Graceland has really been a studio craftsman, building songs around licks and rhythms, something borrowed and something blue, turning his songs into intricate ear candy.
What makes this work even more important is a connected lyrical theme, a treatise examining beauty, love and God, as they exist in all of us. In The Afterlife, our hero dies, and expects to be greeted by the Lord, only to be told "you gotta fill out a form first/and then you wait in the line". It turns out we all have to wait for the answer to it all, across the vastness of time, at least Simon Says.
Elsewhere Simon connects love to a divine creation, or is it an accident? What is God's role in finding this ideal joining of two people? In the song Love And Hard Times, Simon figures he should thank him mightily at least, for the love he found.
It all comes to a head in the boldly-titled Love Is Eternal Sacred Light, we get a full poetic look at Simon's views on love, which is God to him it seems. If there's a divine that exists above the space-time continuum for people, he figures its love in it's brilliant light, "free from the shackles of time". I can't begin to tell you how I admire his bravery, tackling this love/God connection, even writing words for The Big Guy to say. Even then, it's never sacrilegious, and even the most evangelical of us could only disagree, but appreciate Simon's big-hearted thoughts. No one else I can think of could pull this off, and it's most definitely a brand-new kind of Paul Simon work.