Release Date: Apr 12, 2011
Record label: Hear Music
Genre(s): Singer/Songwriter, Adult Contemporary, Pop/Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Soft Rock
On "The Afterlife," an African-pop-flavored standout from his 12th solo album, Paul Simon describes the wait at the Pearly Gates like it's a trip to traffic court, all long lines, mumbled excuses and jokey asides. (The narrator even tries to pick up a woman while killing time.) But underneath the mischief are serious concerns. "It seems like our fate/To suffer and wait for the knowledge we seek," Simon sings amid a sharply syncopated groove and heavenly electric riffs.
Years ago, he said he was more interested in what he discovered than what he invented, a radical statement from this most inventive of songwriters. But it’s true: Decades beyond the point at which most of his peers peaked, Paul Simon is still discovering new ways of writing and conveying amazing work and discovering beautifully unexpected and often spiritual language, as well as new rhythms, melodies and instrumental textures. He returns to some of his early musical methods here, touching on all aspects of his storied career, from New York to Dixieland to Africa and beyond.
Perhaps it’s odd to say that a hugely acclaimed artist—one who has earned both massive audiences and critical acclaim—is underrated. But Paul Simon is that artist. From his late ‘50s hit “Hey, Schoolgirl” to the campus folkie intelligence of Simon & Garfunkel, to his gripping 1970s solo albums, Simon would seem to have staked a full claim as one of the rock era’s finest songwriters and performers.
Touted as Paul Simon’s return to traditional songwriting -- Simon writing alone with a guitar and a pen instead of constructing songs around rhythmic loops the way he’s done since Graceland -- So Beautiful or So What doesn’t feel like a return to the ‘70s. From the moment the record kicks in with the heavy blues stomp and samples of “Getting Ready for Christmas Day,” it’s evident that while Simon may have changed his style of composing, he’s not abandoning his method of record-making, which is distinctly engaged with the present. When Bob Dylan sings about Alicia Keys he does so with an old-fashioned swing, but when Simon writes a verse about Jay-Z he does it within the context of an album anchored in polyrhythms, chattering guitars, and digital loops, where the handful of delicate acoustic numbers function as a counterpoint to the clean bustle of the rest of the record.
In some respects, Paul Simon's latest album is the work of a man approaching 70 putting his house in order. There's a lot of wry musing on the nature of God, who, in Love Is Eternal Sacred Light, peeves that "most folks don't get when I'm joking", on mortality and what awaits us in the afterlife: queues, forms and fragments of rock'n'roll. A shimmering guitar instrumental showcases the elegance of his solo playing, while the densely textured musical tracks convey the diversity of sounds that Simon has absorbed through his life: gospel underscores Love & Blessings; Indian vocal chant and tabla percussion enrich Dazzling Blue; rippling kora melodies dance through Rewrite.
PAUL SIMON plays Massey Hall Friday (May 6) and Sound Academy Saturday (May 7). See listings. Rating: NNNN It wasn't that long ago that hipsters sneered at Paul Simon for cultural appropriation, but after a decade of buzz bands borrowing liberally from African pop, he's long overdue for a reassessment. For one thing, his approach to cross-cultural collaboration is much more defensible than Vampire Weekend's blatant imitation.
First, let’s deal with the hype. We have to for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it’s out there, and I see my role as someone who measures the promise versus the reality. This might not have been necessary for Walter Benjamin, but in our media-saturated times I think it’s mandatory. Plus ….
He says this is a return to his singer-songwriter roots, but the Graceland-ic guitar figures still emphasize rhythm above all. Just as well, I guess, when your most passionate song is called ”Rewrite.” Though there’s a lot of God talk in So Beautiful or So What‘s lyrics (Jesus, Buddha, and the Man Himself all put in appearances), this cagey old pro makes room for stray nonsense phrases like ”bop-bop-a-whoa” as well; spirited spirituality is his goal these days. B+ Download These:Gospel pop Getting Ready for Christmas Day at Last.fmBlissful Love & Blessings at Last.fm See all of this week’s reviews .
On Graceland, "the bomb in the baby carriage was wired to the radio"; it's a "bomb in the marketplace" on So Beautiful or So What. The shift in strategy is minor, but those rhyming images speak to the 25 years separating these two albums: 1986 could be eons ago, or it could be yesterday. Those were the days of miracles and wonder, as Paul Simon entered his forties with humor and curiosity intact.
A profound statement from a master of his craft. Paul Whitelaw 2011 Whenever pop songwriters venture in search of profundity, they tend to overreach themselves, their lofty ambitions toppled by hubris and laughable pretention. Not so rock icon Paul Simon, who’s been writing astutely crafted songs, poetic, questioning and rich in meaning, for almost half a century; remarkably, his 12th solo studio album finds his gifts undimmed, even sharpened, by time.
Abandoning "another album with a rhythmic premise" according to So Beautiful's deluxe edition DVD, Paul Simon nevertheless injects echoes of Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints in "Dazzling Blue" and "Love Is Eternal Sacred Light," respectively, feeding their author's master class mixtape of varied musical mattes (the Moby-like spiritual sampling on "Getting Ready for Christmas Day") like There Goes Rhymin' Simon and Still Crazy After All These Years. .
According to Paul Simon, his new album So Beautiful Or So What is the best work he has done in decades. That’s a bold proclamation. Even more startling: it’s not hyperbole. So Beautiful Or So What might lack the crossover reach of his frothy ’60s duets with Art Garfunkel or his credibility-restoring 1987 album Graceland, but Simon has birthed another career renaissance by doing precisely what he does best: harmonic folk-pop tunes.
PAUL SIMON “So Beautiful or So What” (Hear Music/Concord) Thoughts of love, death, faith and what they all mean in the end — big questions — run through the songs on Paul Simon’s “So Beautiful or So What.” The marvel is that somehow those weighty topics have lightened Mr. Simon’s songwriting touch. For most of his career, Mr. Simon has sought to write as someone grown up beyond his years; he was only in his mid-30s when he sang his 1975 snapshot of middle-age regret, “Still Crazy After All These Years.” Now 69, Mr.