Release Date: Jun 5, 2012
Record label: Legacy
Where do you start with something like Paul Simon’s Graceland? It is one of those huge, revered albums that possess a real legacy, a veteran of countless ‘best of’ lists and a genuine musical landmark. Its twenty-fifth anniversary sees it released in a handsome CD/DVD package accompanied by Joe Berlinger’s Under African Skies, a new documentary concerning itself with the making of the album and the controversy it quickly provoked, via Simon’s reconnecting with many of his players (and critics) as he journeys back to South Africa. It is a fascinating film, but the album is the real star here, sounding as fresh, vital and universally accessible as ever 25 years down the line.
This deluxe package includes a luminous remastered version of Paul Simon’s landmark African-pop album, previously unreleased demos, a live concert DVD and a revealing making-of documentary. Recording in apartheid-era South Africa with local musicians was bold; the marriage of township grooves and shapely, revealing songwriting was groundbreaking. It's hard to even remember the charges of cultural imperialism that greeted Graceland when it was released.
There’s a great line during the last half of Paul Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble”, which incidentally also serves as the first track on what is the artist’s solo masterpiece, 1986’s Graceland. “It’s every generation throws a hero up the pop charts,” he sings during the kind of up-tempo zydeco-meets-1980s-pop that makes the record so timeless. It works if only for how dismissive Simon delivers the phrase.
As I prepared to review the 25th Anniversary Edition of Paul Simon's Graceland, I thought a lot about what the album means to me. It's a more complicated question than it seems. This is an album that's sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and was vigorously protested in certain quarters on its release. It has sat at the center of arguments about cultural exchange, cultural imperialism, and whether Simon was right to skirt the United Nations' cultural boycott of South Africa in order to record with black musicians from that country-- arguments that remain part of the record's story even as the tragedy of apartheid fades further from the headlines.
A chance to marvel once again at the magic of this timeless album. Patrick Humphries 2012 Today it’s hard to remember the controversy surrounding this classic album on its original release in 1986. Equally, it’s hard to credit just how low Paul Simon stood in the musical hierarchy back then. His work up to the mid-80s had not caught the public imagination; his glory days distant memories.
Should Paul Simon be considered Africa's Alan Lomax? According to Under African Skies, an hour-long documentary on the making of Graceland by Joe Berlinger (co-director of Metallica's Some Kind of Monster), the diminutive singer-songwriter introduced the world to the seat of mankind's soundtrack. Hearing Simon reveal that South African a cappella choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo became overnight stars after backing him on Saturday Night Live following the release of the Grammy's 1986 Album of the Year certainly bolsters the filmmakers' case. That full clip of "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes," one of a smattering of extras on Graceland's 2-CD/2-DVD 25th Anniversary Edition, dazzles on par with the box set's beating heart, a full concert of Simon leading an all-African band in Zimbabwe the next year.