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Main Category: Singer-Songwriters
Also applicable: Pop Rock, Folk Rock
Starting Period: The Interim Years
Also active in: The Punk/New Wave Years, The Divided Eighties,

From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Paul Simon fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Paul Simon fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1972

Paul might have enjoyed a two-year break in between the split with Garfunkel and the official beginning of his solo career, but that certainly didn't diminish his talent not a single bit. His first solo album, for me at least, is also one of his best - and it amply demonstrates that Bridge Over Troubled Water captured him on a glorious roll that wasn't about to end as soon as it began. Paul Simon is really a record that doesn't deviate much from the S&G formula: for the most part, it's occupied with the same quiet, stripped-down folk-rock compositions that the duo were mostly famous for, and most of the songs would have easily fit onto a record by the duet, not to mention that some of them would have easily benefited from the presence of Garfunkel's voice. Still, Paul does a fine singing job as well - just listen to his charming falsetto on 'Run That Body Down' and 'Papa Hobo' to be convinced.

One major exception from the formula is the lead-off single, 'Mother And Child Reunion'. Recorded in Jamaica, it's often hailed as one of the first examples of "white take on reggae" ever, way before Clapton started popularizing Bob Marley and all that stuff. To tell you the truth, it sounds more like ska to me - the rhythm is essentially the same as on 'Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da', and nobody calls that one a reggae song. Still, it's fun to see that Paul actually started to get involved in ethnic music as early as 1972, with no Graceland in sight yet. And the song is as catchy as anything Paul ever wrote - not to mention eminently danceable.

Elsewhere, Paul also gets 'experimental' with the Latin-influenced 'Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard', a strange tale of delinquency and detention that ain't entirely understandable but is totally hilarious. But everything else is more or less standard: acoustic balladeering, a few 'rootsy' numbers and a few solid pop songs that somehow manage to have brilliant hooks. The album does get slightly weaker towards the end - where it loses its one star out of five, because I simply can't get through the insipid 'Congratulations', and that hobo suite starts to get unmemorable in a while (although I have to admit that Stephane Grappelli's violin playing on 'Hobo's Blues' is breathtaking, if somewhat generic).

Yet Simon still redeems himself with the first side - 'Duncan' is a wonderful, tear-jerking 'biographical' song along the lines of 'The Boxer' (Wilson & Alroy did ironize on the subject of most of these ideas being recycled from half a dozen S&G hits, but at least there isn't any straightforward self-ripping off), and I'm particularly fond of 'Run That Body Down', a kind of mournful, slightly self-mocking, lightweight, yet deeply philosophical tune - a kind of tune that I'd previously thought only the other Paul was capable of doing; analogies with such songs as 'For No One' and particularly 'Junk' come to mind immediately. But 'Run That Body Down' feels even more at home with me, because the question of 'how long you think that you can run that body down?' is really far more actual than most people usually tend to think about it.

Other good numbers include... ah, whatever. They're mostly quite similar to each other (with the exception of 'Paranoia Blues', which is indeed a blues - with a groovy bottleneck guitar part courtesy of Stefan Grossman. Very bar-sounding, too). Mostly okay, too, rather like those Simon songs I've always enjoyed listening to on the S&G albums but didn't get tremendously excited about. Whatever be, in general the album produces a great effect on the listener - so cool, calm, relaxed, philosophical, and full of delightful little tricks. Paul is really a very thin and esoteric nature, and on each new listen you discover something that you're pretty sure wasn't there before - a delicate guitar twirl, a charming vocal harmony, or maybe a biting piece of lyric. Just keep listening.



Year Of Release: 1973

Eeeeh... now where do I begin? See, basically I don't like this record at all, and at the same time I really don't have anything against it. Think of it as a natural successor to Paul Simon, with a few minor changes. Change # 1: where the hell is the edge? We all know Paul isn't much of an "edge" guy, at least, not before he started to vie with Peter Gabriel and David Byrne for the title of "most South African-friendly dude"; but in any case, on Paul Simon we had some nice, daring excursions into the realms of ska and Latin music, and we had some acute bluesy stuff and we had some mildly biting social critique... need I continue? Here, I find nothing of the kind. Sure, on a few tracks Paul displays a quirky little touch of retro - toying with the New Orleans sound and with 50's doo-wop. But that's not much of an "edge", either.

Change # 2: where the hell are the hooks? There ain't a single hook in these songs on the entire record. Everything is just so smooth and slick, and flows around you so evenly, predictably and without even an ounce of genuine unexpected excitement. I stare at the track listing and try to find at least something that would stick out... nothing. Nothing nowhere. I count ONE interesting musical idea on the whole album. ONE. The completely unremarkable preachy "bluesy ballad" 'One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor" has those nifty piano chord changes - a "dangerous" ten-note sequence that periodically interrupts the usual graceful flow of the melody. This sounds cool and intriguing, although it never develops into anything more. And that's it.

Even the big hits this time around are completely undeserving of the fame. The most well-known song is 'Kodachrome', with a slightly, slightly involving chorus (but truly embarrassing lyrics) that seems like the palest shadow imaginable of the patented Simon & Garfunkel "bouncy" tunes like 'At The Zoo'. Even the speeding up at the end and Barry Beckett's shimmering piano solo don't save the tune from being, well, just ordinary - which is what this entire album is. Ordinary. Simple, unexciting soft-rock/folk-pop ear candy. Kinda like Paul McCartney without the great melodies, get it? Nothing truly serious or truly cathartic, but this time around without the stone-solid hooks or amusing production gimmicks to lift you off the ground. And the second hit, 'Loves Me Like A Rock', is just a generic countryish ballad with an annoying repetitive chorus lifted straight off a Hank Williams record, I think. Or something like that. Wait a minute, it's actually one of the best songs on the album.

The New Orleans send-up 'Take Me To The Mardi Gras', as may be seen right from the title, is maddeningly straightforward and generic, with a bad arrangement of brass at that; and the "follow-up" to 'Mother And Child Reunion', the much more soft and tepid 'Was A Sunny Day', completely lacks the former's tight melodic punch and hilarious youthful energy.

The "pure" ballads here are absolutely unlistenable - 'Something So Right', for instance, is just a pure slab of formless jello that drags on for four and a half minutes, but seems to drag on for an eternity; apparently, Paul just thought his voice was by then a highly seducing power in its own right, and he didn't even bother to grace the song with the heart-wrenching falsetto that graced the far superior 'Run That Body Down'. A good choice to donate to Sinatra. And I still don't get what the hell do people find in 'American Tune': associations with 'America' are common, but the former song had glimpses of majesty about it, while this one just... just sits there. Did I mention yet that there are no hooks anywhere? I did? Well, there's simply nothing more to say about the record...

I still give it two and not one stars because I kinda like the general atmosphere, but, first of all, this isn't that unusual an atmosphere in the first place, and second, it pains me to think that Paul Simon had both the atmosphere and the interesting melodies. It is evident here that the farther Paul drifts away from the S&G legacy, the deeper is the gutter in which he had so successfully shoved his songwriting talent. A pity, that. Strange, too - just one year separates this album from its predecessor and it's so shockingly weak already.



Year Of Release: 1974

Okay, I'm gonna have to assume this album is a downright friggin' joke. And a shame, since the track listing for this live album, recorded by Paul on - guess what - the There Goes Rhymin' Simon tour, is actually quite clever. Most of it is epochal Simon & Garfunkel tunes, all of them prime quality (originally), and the few tunes taken from his two solo albums are also among the best: okay, 'American Tune' isn't any better than it was in the original version, but I'm a-havin' to assume this song was deemed so dang important by Paul that he just had to pretend it appealed for classic status. Other than that, you get your 'Mother And Child Reunion' (catchy), 'Me And Julio...' (jangly), 'Loves Me Like A Rock' (rockin'), and 'Duncan' (creepy) - what else do you want?

Well, turns out that even despite the excellent song selection, this album completely blows. Okay, I take it: when Simon is standing alone on the stage, quietly plunking his acoustic, the produced effect is not at all bad. Not at all. But at their best, these performances just sound exactly like their studio versions, with Paul not changing a single note ('American Tune', 'Duncan'), and at worst, you begin to realize how much of a dumbass Paul really was when he let Mr Garfunkel slide through his hands ('Homeward Bound' - beautiful song but loses half of its charm without Art to back it up). And the once glorious 'lai la lai's of 'The Boxer' seem lonely and cold now, almost miserable in their solitude...

The one major highlight in the first half of the concert is Simon's witty (but again, by-the-book) rendition of 'El Condor Pasa' for which he draws out the South American band Urubanba. It's nice to see the tune reproduced on stage in an 'authentic' version. But then there's the second half of the concert, and to say "abysmal" of it is to say nothing. Here, Paul hauls out another backing band, gospel this time (I don't remember the name and I really could care less), and proceeds to butcher two of S&G's greatest tunes. 'The Sound Of Silence' is tolerable, but I'd personally rip Paul's chest open for letting that male singer, whoever he is, take over the lead vocals in one of the verses. And 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' is just painful... ooh, why did he have to do it? Not only is Paul completely unsuited to singing songs like this (which causes the number to lose almost all of its former grandiose emotional impact), but he also lets all these generic female vocalists wail in the background and finish the job with a lengthy repetitive 'spiritual' coda. Spiritual my ass. Why ain't there no capital punishment for awful taste?

Okay, don't quote me on that. In any case, this is a dreadful bastardisation, and as if this weren't enough, Paul also lets the band take over with a generic gospel number ('Jesus Is The Answer' - LLLLLORD!) that makes me vomit on the spot. Thankfully, after all the criminy they end the set with a very good, upbeat version of 'Loves Me Like A Rock' which is the only version on here that can be said to superate the original, and then Paul rounds off things with a soulful rendition of 'America' - you know, just to let people know the difference between real stuff like 'America' and rambling jello like 'American Tune'. But the overall mood has already been spoiled, and stars drop off the rating tree like autumn leaves...

Just goes to show: Simon is a really worthless live performer. At least, he was a really worthless live performer. No wonder he and Garfunkel didn't tour all that much. Two wimpy humble intellectuals, and apparently with a lot of stage fright, too. You know what's the best damn spot on here? When somebody in the audience shouts out 'say a few words!', as if there was too few banter without his reminiscence, and a completely taken aback Simon replies: 'Say a few words? Well, let's hope that we... let's hope that we continue to live...' and ends up in mid-air, as if he first wanted to add something like ' peace' and then changed his mind and said nothing either because he couldn't think of what to say or he realized that 'continue to live (full stop)' would produce a better impact. Boo.



Year Of Release: 1975

Paul manages to somehow rebound on this, his last album of the Seventies, but I gotta warn you: you must be in a really soft, relaxated, and condescending mood in order to fully enjoy this album. It's just as mellow and tepid as the last one, only this time Paul mostly abandons folk ditties and soulful grooves and veers into jazz-pop territory. And not a particularly gritty jazz-pop territory, either - if the album doesn't put you off to sleep on first listen, you must have just been awoken from a fifteen-year period of lethargy. Soft, dreamy keyboards, intermingled with soft, dreamy guitars, peppered with soft, dreamy saxophones, and spices up with soft, dreamy vocals. All the way through, literally - about the only exception is the fast 'n' bouncy 'Gone At Last', sung by Paul in a duet with Phoebe Snow. But even this song sounds so much out of context that I refuse to call it a highlight. Not to mention that it's got a pretty generic jazz melody - unfortunately, the same accusation can be thrown at about half of these songs.

That said, while the sound is really close to 'adult contemporary', it's not quite like that, because there are generally more guitars and there are generally more cunning twists and turns of the vocal melodies than you'd expect from a standard AC record. The album's major highlight, of course, is the hit '50 Ways To Leave Your Lover', which is hard to resist - both the subtle verses and the bouncier refrain are excellently written and provocative, even if I don't understand what the heck Paul is actually singing about. There's something so witty and so Simonesque about all these 'just slip out the back, Jack, make a new plan, Stan', that it almost reminds me of the immortal classic 'Feelin' Groovy' in certain ways. Another major highlight is the title track - confessional, heartfelt and catchy at that, if you manage to get past all the annoying 'heavenly' keyboard sounds.

Everything else, though, can take time to get used to - worse, it could happen that you could not get used to this stuff at all. Dear me. Simon's got a nasty way with hooks on here - on most songs, they're actually present, but they're either very subtle, to the point of not being noticed, or just so tricky and complex that it's hardly worth the bother. The first category includes the near-accidental Simon/Garfunkel collaboration, 'My Little Town', a pleasant little MOR ballad that's just the kind of stuff that sits perfectly at ease in between an Eagles and a Billy Joel number (for some, this is another major highlight, but definitely not for me), and 'You're So Kind', a routine countryish stomper that's highlighted by a very minimalistic guitar pattern and excellent lyrics from Paul ('So goodbye, goodbye/I'm gonna leave you now/And here's the reason why/I like to sleep with the window open/And you keep it closed'). A minor gem here is also 'Have A Good Time' - this one will probably pass unnoticed by the average fan, but it's actually one of Paul's most inventive numbers - with lotsa neat harmony arrangements, an excellent touch in Phil Woods' closing saxophone solo, and, most of all, in the perfect contradiction of the song's slightly gloomy, 'unsafe' melody and atmosphere with Paul's seemingly optimistic lyrics. Obviously, his 'I feel so good' routine has to be taken tongue-in-cheek, right? 'So God bless the goods we was given/And God bless the US of A/ And God bless our standard of livin'/Let's keep it that way/And we'll all have a good time'. Oh really? I don't think so!

Neither does Paul, I guess, and he actually turns more pessimistic and melancholic on the 'complex ballads', such as 'Night Game' and 'I Do It For Your Love', which, on succeeding listens, turn out to be somewhat better structured and melodic than initially. Still, I can't help but wonder how this kind of 'soft sludge' would have sounded in the hands of Paul McCartney - he did have his own experiments with this genre, and generally the results were, ahem, more 'accessible'. And anyway, Paul McCartney never recorded anything as boring and inadequately pathetic as 'Silent Eyes', Paul's only 'heartfelt excursion' into gospel on this record. No, Paul, another 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' this is not - the melody is several times less developed, whereas the ambitions had only grown. An outrageous and downright nasty conclusion to the album, a self-conscious attempt to outbathos himself. Whatever. Keep in mind that a large part of Paul Simon's personality is not able to fit within my personality, so heck, if you're structured differently from me, you might just as well run out and buy this now.



Year Of Release: 1980

Simon's first full-fledged LP in almost five years was this, a rather confused pseudo-soundtrack to a movie of the same name - pseudo, because only a few tracks seem to have been used in the movie itself, and on the other hand, the movie featured a couple songs that didn't make it onto the album. Well, things like that happen all the time, no big deal. The big deal is that the album was a big critical failure, and up to this day stands as easily the weakest thing Simon ever did.

I'd like to go out of my way and offer a slightly different perspective, though - I actually like this record, even if I'm not wild about it. For the most part, Simon is being accused here of being way too comatose and negligent towards the melodies. This is true, the songs are hardly memorable. And most of them sound pretty much the same. The same branch of lounge jazz-pop and stuff he'd already explored on all of his previous albums, only even less compromising than anything else. By the time you arrive at the middle of the album, this "chimey" synthesizer sound Paul exploits on almost every song will start buzzing in your ears like the roar of a jet engine long after you've skedaddled out of the plane. The slower songs all seem to be clones of 'Still Crazy After All Those Years', and the faster songs are, like, two or three, and not tremendously uplifting.

But in a certain way, this carrying the "relaxation" atmosphere to an extreme is exactly what helps me digest the album. It's a pure mood listen, a bit of intelligent background music to soften your limbs and caress your brain. Late in the evening is the only time you should listen to it, preferrably in headphones and not too loud. Study the lyrics sheet previously - so you won't have to be distracted by trying to understand everything Paul says - and just enjoy the experience. And then, hey, all the chintzy synths and the quiet guitars and the silky vocals will suddenly woo you over. Maybe Simon was influenced by Dire Straits, I'm not sure, but there's a certain similarity to the calm minimalistic atmosphere of Knopfler's, except that Knopfler is ultimately a pessimist, painting bleak depressing pictures, where Simon is a good-natured fine-spirited whussy wimpy nerd. So he's kinda "safe". But very enticing on this one.

The faster tunes on here, which the fans usually consider the best, actually seem annoying to me, because they distract from the general mood; if there ever was one album to call for total uniformity, it's Pony, and really, a thing like 'Late In The Evening' doesn't really gel with everything else. It's kinda okay, a decent Latin rocker with abrasive percussion and a predictable Latin brass section, but there doesn't seem to be anything outstanding about it. A kind of song everybody interested in Latin music could do, and the rhythms are so basic I would probably want to listen to something authentic instead. The "regular" pop-rocker 'Ace In The Hole' is slightly better, but it disrupts the atmosphere for me anyway.

Everything else is just like one big song. Soft, jello-like, lulling, hooshing, hushing, whooshing by. No new ideas at all, heck, Paul has done all this before, he just never did it in such an overwhelming manner. And the manner is overwhelming! And when you consider he's actually telling this story of a little man with all of the little man's problems (well, okay, so it's the regular thing for Mr Simon), the lyrics and the intonations really fit in with the music and make you feel cozy. 'Oh Marion', for instance, ain't that one wonderful? The perfect minimalistic licks, the perfect soft mid-tempo, the perfect 'Oh Marion, I think I'm in troooooouble here' falsetto bit, everything is so totally unremarkable but somehow gets under your skin anyway when taken in context.

'God Bless The Absentee' is perhaps the most poignant number, the heartfelt confession of a traveling musician with magnificent bluesy guitar worthy of a Clapton or a Knopfler, and 'Long Long Day' is easily the best closing number on a Simon record so far. 'I hate to abuse an old cliche, but it's been a long long day', Simon admits - perhaps by 1980 putting lines like these into songs has become a cliche by itself, but it's still nice to see Simon in such a self-conscious mood. And ooh the voice... let's admit it, when Simon lets his voice be well-produced, on these ultra-soft quiet echoey ballads, Garfunkel can rest in peace. Yeah, I like Art as much as anybody, but still the unimaginable beauty of his voice looks kinda inhuman, doesn't it? Simon, on the contrary, has got this down-to-earth style which is so much easier and so much more natural to associate with.

Anyway, do not think I'm "saving" this album just to be different or anything; in my mind, it openly clicked as a "mood piece", minus the two rockers, where none of the previous records did, and this immediately opened a new dimension of evaluating it. Had I bothered only to mention the lack of strong melodies, I'd have to give it no more than half the rating I did give - but salvation comes in the most incredible forms, you know.



Year Of Release: 1983

Okay, now this is certainly one of those records you either love or hate. No memorable melodies, no innovative value, just a straightforward confessional album that speaks to the hearts rather than the bones. I always have a hard time with these, whether it be Dylan or Neil Young, but while other singer-songwriters might often go overboard by squeezing their emotions, reminiscences, allegories, associations, and social comments in one big salad bowl and then dipping the listener in that bowl head forward, holding him underwater for just as long as it takes to expire ("sheez, dude, I'm wearing my heart on my sleeve and you don't want to exhibit just a little patience and consideration?"), Simon really doesn't do that on this album.

It's actually not a concept album at all. It's just Mr Simon in a particularly pensive mood, casually putting down some of his observations for them to run deeply in the background. If you don't pay enough attention, in fact, you might not even notice the record's there or that it's supposedly telling you something you might be interested in. But it's actually fun to be paying attention to the songs - they're mellow, they're intimate, and what's important, they're actually well arranged. Simon starts to toy around with contemporary production, which means there's some drum machines and some hi-tech synths, but they're always under control, and there's just as much acoustic guitar as you actually need.

And finally, Hearts And Bones has easily the best Simon lyrics of his entire career. Apart from 'The Late Great Johnny Ace', which is a sorta touching tribute to John Lennon but suffers from way too much straightforwardness, almost all the songs request from you that you actually take the lyrics sheet and admire it. I dunno, 'When Numbers Get Serious', for instance, where Paul complains about the pervasive influence of "numbers" in his life (= "all that complex unnecessary crap that the social life bugs us with"), but 'after all is said and done/And the numbers all come home/The four rolls into three/The three turns into two/And the two becomes a one'. An almost Taoist conception here, and a nice change of mood from the dippy rollicking ska-ish rhythm of the main part to the solemn epic conclusion.

'Allergies' presents the quintessential Simon protagonist as suffering from a very particular (but quite realistic) form of paranoia - 'my heart is alergic to the women I love, and it's changing the shape of my face'. It also has the catchiest chorus on record, but really, that's not all that important for this here occasion. The title track is a very complex affair about two people falling in love in New Mexican mountains (hey, this is where I live currently! Sure enough, that's one bee-ootiful place to fall in love!), so serious and complex, in fact, I have nothing to say about it.

The Latin-tinged 'Think Too Much' is present here in two versions, one of them seriously Latin-tinged and the other one not so seriously Latin-tinged: 'they say the lef side of the brain dominates the right/and the right side has to labor through the long and speechless night'. Paul's ruminations on how he overworks his brain really hit a chord with me, and besides, it all kinda ties in with the main theme of 'When Numbers Get Serious'. On 'Train In The Distance', Paul and his band haul out the moody chimy synths that made up the silken glossy bulk of One Trick Pony and set up a basis for a basic story of marriage, divorce and eventual reconciliation on a partial basis, with the conclusion that 'the thought that life could be better/Is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains'. As banal as the subject matter seems, for some strange reason I don't seem to recall of any other song that'd tackle the marriage/divorce/reconciliation topic - marriage/divorce, for sure, lots of 'em, but there's never a concluding synthesis to the two. No tragedy, no big overblown drama, just a very casual social process, narrated over an ultra-quiet background; not everybody will agree, but I personally think it's genius.

Likewise, 'Rene And Georgette Magritte' is genius as well, a very touching ode to nostalgia that gets by exclusively by the lyrics and Paul's beautiful vocal delivery. Funny, since Simon doesn't really have an outstanding vocal capacity... but on Hearts And Bones he touches upon all these ultra-soothing, wavery intonations that people are normally afraid to employ so as not to sound like sappy sentimental no-goodnik wimps. That's Paul's niche - he's not afraid of filling it, and so ends up being pretty much the only well-known guy to sing in that manner when he could have been one of the millions. Hah.

The fourth star is denied to the album mainly due to a weak ending; 'Cars Are Cars' might be necessary to uplift the late-in-the-evening dreamy mood of the album at least a bit, but the song is kinda primitive compared to everything else on here, and the repetitive 'cars are cars all over the world' refrain is really like a cold shower after all the wittiness of the previous songs. And while the tribute to Lennon is certainly moving, it essentially sounds like something Simon quickly tossed off upon learning about John's death, then pushed on this album without giving it a thorough go-over.

On a more global note, confessional confidential emotion-centered albums like these aren't really my forte - nor were they the forte of the buying public, because the album was a big commercial flop upon release. Yet since then Hearts And Bones seem to have become something like the ultimate Paul Simon cult album, and for good reason: it's one of his least accessible, yet most intelligent ones. If anything, it is fairly enough to promote Paul as a worthy candidate for one of America's best lyricists of all time; not that it was never obvious before, but Hearts And Bones invents more startling and original lyrical conceptions than any other Simon record, and one has gotta respect that. See? At times, I do care for the lyrics - so please don't crucify me if I don't offer you enough quotations from the latest Grand Funk Railroad review.



Year Of Release: 1986

Commercially and critically successful, and thus, with detractors-a-plenty who say that this can't be his best album since it gets so many accolades from people who in another life would be giving the same praise to some shitty Gilbert & Sullivan opera. Not that it has anything to do with Gilbert & Sullivan, unless you bring out the analogy of sticking one's nose into a deeply foreign culture in order to produce one's masterwork.

Let's get it straight - Paul Simon didn't invent world music with this album. Nor, in fact, did he truly produce a "world beat" record; essentially, the songs are still pure Paul, and I was mildly surprised when, after all the talk about the South African musicians and the violation of the anti-apartheid policies and stuff like that, I discovered that Graceland was, actually, just a pop album with a feeble "sprinkling" of mixed African and Cajun influences. Sure, the African influences were new to Paul (the Cajun ones were definitely not, though), and on his personal scale, Graceland is "wildly experimental", but for those accustomed to treating "world music" through the prism of David Byrne and Peter Gabriel, it's rather, uhm, unconvincing.

All of which doesn't mean Graceland isn't a great collection of pop songs. At the very least, on here Paul just totally drops the soft jazzy muzak of his previous releases and concentrates on bouncy, energetic, rhythmic little ditties - well, then again, he didn't have much choice if he wanted South African musicians to play his stuff, did he? There's gotta be some rhythm, baby. And there's plenty, actually. It's also generally an optimistic, uplifting album, too, although there's definitely more to the picture than meets the eye. I mean, one could easily see 'The Boy In The Bubble' as an uplifting pop-rocker, what with the 'these are the days of miracle and wonder' chorus and all, but read the verses and you'll see imagery of terrorism and 'dead sand falling on the children' and suchlike. Indeed, the bassline is almost threatening out here, and the pump organ (or is that an accordeon?) is pretty "unsafe", and Paul's tone is almost apocalyptic - then it all changes in the chorus, but that's the irony of the song.

Actually, the lyrics throughout are pretty convoluted, elevating Paul to another level in his career, where straightforward messages are mostly eluded in favour of allowing the listener more room for interpretation. That's a plus, granted the lyrics aren't way too cliched, and they aren't. But in any case, this fits in with the fact that Graceland is primarily a music-oriented album; if you're a fan of Simon's lyricism, nobody's taking the lyrics sheet from you, but you really don't need it in order to get the essence of the album. And that's also a big step forward, considering how much of a quintessential "singer-songwriter" Simon had always been, at least, since he parted ways with Garfunkel; Graceland really has little to do with traditional "singer-songwriting".

It's pretty hard to pick out highlights - no songs strike me as amazing, and there isn't even any particular tune or two that manages to be more memorable than others. I'd maybe even go as far as to say that it's the sound of the album that woos me more than the melodies: it's pretty hard to reduce to one prototype, but pretty much every combination of instruments, tones, and chords on the record is a little bit unusual. The title track is the most straightforward composition on here, and even that one sounds like a Fifties boogie replete with countryesque guitars, minimalistic drum machines, and ethnic percussion - a weird melting pot indeed. 'I Know What I Know' starts out like it wants to be a rip-off of 'So You Want To Be A Rock'n'Roll Star', then flows into "wimpy Oingo Boingo" territory, then turns out to be classic ska-ish Paul Simon but with lots of "aboriginal" backing vocals. And so on.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not implying these songs will be blowing you off your feet. All of these touches, mixes, and mingles are very subtle, and if I do employ the word "weird" on here, it's by no means the "weird" of the Captain Beefheart level. It's just that all of this makes the work in general much more interesting than it'd been had Simon never met these South African fellas. Only on a couple tracks does their native power shine through in all of its glory - like the excellent accappella singing on 'Homeless', for instance - but that's really not a problem.

And finally, I'm really a sucker for this album because I dig the grace (no hint at the title) with which Paul tackles his more 'upbeat' numbers, both here and in the past times - it's just that here there's a lot of 'em. 'You Can Call Me Al'? Rules my world. 'That Was Your Mother'? Can't shake that one off me, either. If there's a genre called "geeky wimp-pop", Paul Simon is the king of it, much more so than the other Paul. So I'll make a reservation here and say that, while none of the songs amaze me with their catchiness, the record is still an absolute gas while it's on. Add to this that it came out in 1986 - an era when Paul's old buddies were all, you know, supposed to suck in the midst of their mid-life crises - and the respect grows fiftyfold.


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