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You're The One by Paul Simon (2000)
This collection of songs has a more intimate and introspective musical ambition than Simon's most famous solo album, Graceland, but proves nonetheless his peerless observational song-craft stands undiminished by age. Of course keeping things simple for Simon often means a richer array of instrumentation than lesser musicians would have the confidence to employ in full flow, and his compositions are filled by flavour and feeling. I would say the ratio of stronger songs to weaker songs is seven to four, and two or three are truly exceptional. That's not bad considering Simon and Garfunkel split up in 1970, the same year as The Beatles. Simon has always been a better songwriter than Lennon or McCartney, in my slightly eccentric opinion, and this record confirmed he has matched the creative longevity of artists like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Bruce Springsteen.
One - That's Where I Belong
"Somewhere in a burst of glory / Sound becomes a song / I'm bound to tell a story / That's where I belong" is how Paul Simon sums up where he's coming from on the opening line of this record and it's a pretty fair representation. Elsewhere on the record he engages the fact he's getting older, but here at least he sees in "every ending a beginning". It's a peaceful song with some pretty imagery, and it conjures up the contented happiness brought to him by a person who smiles and sings to him in a place he enjoys living. Alongside the guitar, bass and percussion comes some sunny accompaniment from a Wurlitzer piano, a bass clarinet, a bamboo flute, a vielle and a vihuela.
Two - Darling Lorraine
Frank tells the story of his long marriage to Lorraine from the day they met to the day she dies, with all the tribulations in between. In the first verse he's not sure she's what he's looking for, but he introduces himself "with the part of me that talks" and soon they're in love. In the second verse he starts to characterise himself a little too romantically before confessing he's a regular guy. He's down to earth about "the usual marriage stuff" until one day Lorraine tells him "Frank I've had enough." The chorus captures both the usual marriage stuff and this first row and near separation. When it repeats later you see the affectionate disgruntlement that exists between two people who have been in love for a long time. "You're not the woman that I wed". The third verse concerns Frank's money woes and lack of job satisfaction. He wonders if not for Lorraine he might have been a wandering musician. "I love the piano." You wonder if Simon is envisaging a counterlife to his own as well as Frank. A bridge jumps to them watching A Wonderful Life together on Christmas morning before leading back into the chorus and then another bridge where "the doctor was smiling but the news wasn't good." The final verse is about Lorraine leaving him for the last time. "All the trees were washed with April rain / and the moon in the meadow / took darling Lorraine."
Three - Old
The third track is a percussive song with a nice rhythm and a catchy riff that harks back to the pop music of the fifties and sixties. Simon remembers the era between the first times he heard the songs Peggy Sue and Satisfaction. The rest of the song reflects how old he must be, but he points out in the tongue and cheek context of human evolution and world faiths, he's actually pretty young. And like the Rolling Stones and Buddy Holly, his songs will outlive him. Highly entertaining.
Four - You're The One
World music rhythms take centre stage in this slightly spiritual sounding song. "You're the one you broke my heart you made me cry," he repeats like a mantra before conceding some culpability of his own.
Five - The Teacher
This song lyrically over stretches itself, which is a bit of a rarity for Simon. The allegorical style of the story just isn't engaging enough and the meaning is insufficiently revelatory and none of the phrases leave as much of an imprint as the images themselves. Harmonica, pedal steel guitar, bamboo flute and bass clarinet do come hauntingly to life in between the slow verses though.
Six - Look At That
The trouble with the words to this one is just how abbreviated they seem. I've no difficulty with concision but Simon has more important things to say than he does here. The music is warm but a bit too sleepy and the whole endeavour seems to slip onto autopilot to be honest. But it's not bad.
Seven - Senorita With a Necklace of Tears
This is an incredible song. Simon's voice is warm and wise and the acoustic band are joined by harp, organ, sitar and dobro. The first verse compares generations of humanity to waves of the sea "born and born again". The second verse takes a staggeringly beautiful swipe at the implausibility of the news of human progress reported daily: "There's a frog in South America whose venom is a cure for all the suffering that mankind must endure; more powerful than morphine and soothing as the rain. A frog in South America has the antidote for pain." The third verse outlines the varieties of human temperaments. The fourth verse imagines the neck of his guitar is a "senorita with a necklace of tears" and each tear is a sin he committed and she remembers who he was each year and this is her song. The final verse is more reflections on differences of human natures. Throughout the song Simon repeats the line "That's the way it's always been and that's the way I want it to be." There aren't many people alive who can write lyrics as good as these.
Eight - Love
Another slow burning song I'm less keen on that sounds reflective without really allowing the listener to participate in whatever insight underlies it. It has a couple of nice turns of phrase but to be honest most artistic definitions of love are woefully inadequate and perhaps it's enough that we can empathise with the wish to express the concept. The song needs less metaphor and more character. There's a nice understated guitar riff towards the end that winds up like clockwork.
Nine - Pigs, Sheep and Wolves
The overly stylised vocals are a bit of an endurance test for my money and the lyrics are abstract and obtuse. Rhythmically it's the least interesting song on the record, although there are some nice tones and textures.
Ten - Hurricane Eye
Begins charmingly with a twinkling banjo and the rhymes have a lovely simple cadence as Simon's voice gladly rises soft and warm. The words are figurative and eloquent at first ("When speech becomes a crime silence leads the spirit over the bridge of time") and then later he starts to impart a few advisory lessons ("You want to be a leader? You want to change the game? Turn your back on money walk away from fame.") Alongside guitars and bass and drums, a hammer dulcimer, keyboard glockenspiel and celeste provide plenty of character.
Eleven - Quiet
This is an amazing song. The music ghostly echoes with time and the words already accepted death. There's a reverential lilt of departure and knowledge at the end. The dying man's last thoughts seem to be that when they tell you you're not good enough they're right but who are they to say it but mirrors of your own ambitions eating yourself up "for the change inside the purse / they are handcuffs on the soul, my friends". This last phrase recalls the lyric "diamonds on the souls of her shoes" from the Graceland album. He believes death is the perfect circle that "marries all beginnings and conclusions" and feels relief to be released from his illusions. "I am heading for a place of quiet / where the sage and sweetgrass grow / by a lake of sacred water / from the mountain's melted snow." A beautiful song to close the record.
A new Paul Simon album is always something worth getting excited about especially as it has been so long since he made a great album. For me, Graceland was a milestone in his career, equalling if not exceeding his most excellent work in the early 70s. I was never overly impressed with The Rhythm of The Saints. Maybe it was too hard to follow up Graceland. So, with no new music to speak of in the 90s, except the overlooked Songs From The Capeman, it's good to see one the finest and most consistent songwriters of our time back in the spotlight. The compilation 'Shining Like a National Guitar' released earlier this year is a good retrospective view of Simon's solo career to date and serves as a good advertisement for the new CD as its release will still be fresh in people's minds. I have to say I was sceptical about buying You're The One as I thought it could be a difficult album to digest, full o strange instruments and weird vocals. It contains neither of those but it does demand a high degree of concentration and committment from the listener. It's a short album running at just over 40 minutes so it can be (and should be) listened to as a whole. The first listen is not too fruitful and you will be left wondering what all the fuss is about. It sounds like it hasn't really got started and that there should be more to it. There really isn't anything that catches the ear straight away although there's no doubting the effort that has gone into each song. Very much so. It's on the second listen that you really start to gain appeal from this album. Once again it must be listened to as a whole and this time parts of it sink in and become entwined in your mind. It's important to follow the lyrics as Simon's ace card is his wordplay and this is what he relies on to convey the content to the listener. Don't go searching for hidden meanings, just take the words as they come. Also, don't expec
t any catchy singalong choruses and forget the verse chorus verse routine. What you will get is a wide variety of instrumentation that cannot really be classed as any one genre (unlike Graceland and Saints where the influences were clearly identified). Simon has gathered a collection of highly talented instrumentalists to create a finely tuned backdrop for his detailed wordplay. Each song has a lot of words and I can't stress enough that you must follow the words to be able to gain the full benefit of the music. You will certainly find humour and warmth in the lyrics and Simon's voice is so mellow that you never get tired of hearing him. A lot of the songs do take on a narritive formula but those familiar with Simon's work will recognise this quality. Never possessed with a brilliant singing voice, it's not this that makes the music, the combination of the instrumentation and the words mix together to provide an album that is a bit like watching a classic movie - you never get it first time around and you know you want to see it again. Treat this album like that and you will be rewarded. I doubted this album but i'm pleased I overcame my doubts because this really is a very, very beautiful piece of work which rests very comfortably alongside the rest of Paul Simon's catalogue. In a musical sense this is probably one of the best releases this year. One final point - this is an HDCD mastered album and anyone familiar with HDCD will appreciate the difference it makes to the sound. In this case the accuacy of the recording is displayed in a remarkable depth to such an extent that you feel like you're listening to it in a live setting.
One of the grand old men of American popular music is back with his first non-themed album in over a decade. With his Broadway failure The Capeman behind him, Simon has returned to what he does best. Coming on like Raymond Carver with a guitar, Simon seduces the listener with 11 ‘stories’. There are no hit singles here, just an album that intrigues and impresses from the outset. An early highlight is ‘Darling Lorraine’. Here, our protagonist recalls meeting his future wife. The teller is seduced by "the sin of impatience". A lifetime eventually passes between them. From an early romance, they endure arguments with the passing of time. As Lorraine is dying, ‘Frank’ recalls the highs and lows. "Here’s an extra blanket, honey/to wrap around your feet", he croons. Simon can still break hearts of stone. The rest of the album is equally buoyant, with tales about what it means to be human. You’re The One comes highly recommended. Welcome back, rhymin’ Simon.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 That's Where I Belong
2 Darling Lorraine
4 You're The One
6 Look At That
7 Senorita With A Necklace Of Tears
9 Pigs Sheep And Wolves
10 Hurricane Eye