So what makes this album so beautiful? Everything, actually!
So Beautiful Or So What - Paul Simon
Member Name: TheChocolateLady
So Beautiful Or So What - Paul Simon
Advantages: Amazing collection, great songs, wonderful tunes, excellent lyrics, beautiful vocals, fascinating
Disadvantages: You might not want to listen to anything else?
What can you expect from his latest collection of songs? First of all, you get something that is instantly identifiable as being typical Paul Simon, but with none of the boredom that might come with it. Once again, Simon mixes genres as smoothly as a bartender mixes his favourite cocktail, and with just as much flavour. There are nods to his previous albums that saw him inject African sounds on one song, while on another he has a Gospel preacher speaking to his congregation in the background. Throw in some Blues, a touch of Jazz, a splash of pop, a handful of rock and even a lovingly composed guitar solo track, followed by a thoughtful folk ballad, and you're just scratching the surface here.
Of course, Simon's lyrics are as evocative and poetic as ever, and he also doesn't shy away from some political commentary along the way. In the opening song "Getting Ready for Christmas Day" he grabs us with one line that couldn't be timelier:
"I've got a nephew in Iraq. It's his third time back. But it's ending up the way it began. With the luck of a beginner he'll be eating turkey dinner on a mountaintop in Pakistan."
This, together with other lines that reflect America's present economic problems combined with some faith which brings hope makes both a powerful statement as well as an expression of understanding. This hopeful feel on the back of life's difficulties comes into play again in the song "Rewrite". Here he notes he's working at the carwash during the day and at night he's rewriting his novel which he hopes to turn into cash. But Simon never let's faith get the better of his message, as exampled in "Love and Hard Times" where he sings about "God and his only son paid a courtesy call on earth one Sunday morning" and then later when they leave notes they think the people of the planet are slobs, and immediately afterwards changes the focus of the song altogether. In his song "Afterlife" he tells you that after you die you have to "fill out a form first, and then wait in the line". It is this type of wry humour which Simon drizzles over all his songs without ever giving any reason to take offence.
His quieter songs also get special treatment. For instance, the song "Dazzling Blue" has some of those African instrumentals and background vocals to keep a love song from sounding sappy or ordinary. Then again, he gives his song "Love & Blessings" a soulful overtone to begin with and then throws in an upbeat bridge to keep it interesting. He even makes fun of songwriters, including him, when the focus changes in "Love and Hard Times" and he says "I loved her the first time I saw her, I know that's an old time song writing cliché." From then on this song becomes a romantic ballad that has a fluid, silky feel to it. On the other hand, he also peps one love song with "Love is Eternal Sacred Light". Here he goes almost full-force Gospel, and throws in a bridge in the middle using his lowest vocal register, just to emphasize his lyric.
While all this may sound like this is a complex compilation of eclectic songs, which might be difficult to listen to, but the truth is that even on first listening you'll be charmed by what you hear. The initial feeling here is something deceptively simple, but the more you listen, the more you'll get the nuances and undertones. You'll slowly catch the different and varied instrumental backgrounds, while your appreciation of the more acoustic tracks that spotlight both Simon's vocal and guitar talents grows. In other words, this is a masterful album which many are saying is likely to be one of, if not his very best. For an almost 70 year old man who "hasn't a brain cell left since Vietnam", and has been in the business for well over 50 years, that's pretty damned good, if nothing short of miraculous. There's no reason why this album deserves any less than five stars out of five and it comes highly recommended.
Davida Chazan © June 2011
This album will be released on Amazon in the UK on June 13 when it will be available for MP3 download or you can pre-order the CD for £8.93.
Of course, if you want to see more about this album and other works by Paul Simon, you can always visit his official website at www.paulsimon.com where you'll also get information about his upcoming concert tour which includes stops in Ireland, Scotland and several other UK cities (and ending with one concert in Israel, which I already have tickets for).
1. Getting Ready For Christmas Day
2. The Afterlife
3. Dazzling Blue
5. Love and Hard Times
6. Love Is Eternal Sacred Light
8. Questions for the Angels
9. Love and Blessings
10. So Beautiful Or So What
Summary: Paul Simon's latest album could very well be his best.