I’m not an ardent Paul Simon fan – in fact this is the first solo album of his I own – but after I decided to sit through a high quality stream of his latest album (which oddly, is still available) I really wanted to own it. For one thing, I’ve heard far too much music lately that blows my eardrums.
My first introduction to Simon’s work was when a friend lent me a Simon & Garfunkel’s hits collection about a decade ago. I didn’t expect that I’d like it so much; the production work still sounds modern and both of them are certainly gifted.
I remember hearing ‘You Can Call Me Al’ from Simon’s well-received Graceland album from ’86, but I never formed an opinion about it; he was a man in his mid-forties and to a child then he wasn’t hip.
Simon has said that this album, So Beautiful or So What, is his best in about twenty years. I can’t judge that of course, but after having heard Graceland on Spotify a few weeks back it’s clear that he’s asserted himself as something much more special than the average one-man-with-a-guitar. In my opinion, SB/SW is better than Graceland. US chart performance shows that many people probably think the same too (the album has been out there for a few months already).
Where Graceland had quite a South African flavour, this album seems to have a more global feel; for example ‘Dazzling Blue’ features relaxing South Asian percussion, and ‘Rewrite’ has a sort of Spanish music-box feel; if that makes sense? On the face of it the whole album sounds simplistic but the beauty is that it’s detailed without sounding like he’s thrown everything and the kitchen sink onto the tracks. Colourful but not garish. Anything that sounds American here, sounds very old-school rather than modern; a good thing.
The lyrics haven’t fully sunk into my head yet as I’ve only heard it a few times, but he certainly has no problem picking the correct words. It’s the vocal melodies and rhythms that seem to stand out most though. As all good – or perhaps great, yes great – albums, the order of the tracks works well; there is some thread in it. Not one to ruin by mangling it in a playlist.
The only downside is its brevity, but a good album wants you to beg for more, right?
If you’re thinking about getting the digital version, the best value one seems to be on iTunes as it features ‘Peace Like A River (live)’ and an eight-minute making of video which evidences the dedication to his art.
Get it. You won’t regret it.