Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Paul Simon album by album




Paul Simon has been an interesting writer for some years. His work with Art Garfunkel, which started in the 1950s, became iconic during the Sixties, and the sound they created appeared to define the times. They made six albums (including The Graduate) - the last three form a holy trinity of fascinating, transcending, pop-folk that was immediate and vital at the time, and still retains a fascination and resonance today. Their last album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, was universally adored, and remained in the album charts for over a year. It is an outstanding artistic and cultural achievement. The duo split up, and Simon made a series of solo albums, some better than others, and all moderately interesting - but nothing as iconic and moving as his best work with Garfunkel. In 1981 they got together for The Concert in Central Park, which appeared to reaffirm that the emotional heart of Simon's work was with Garfunkel. That's what the public wanted and adored, and while his solo career was doing OK, it was not on the same scale of acceptance and appreciation as his work with Garfunkel. The critics said positive things, and the albums sold, but there wasn't the buzz and feel of Simon & Garfunkel.

And then in 1986, as the world was starting to get into "World Music", and African music was starting to make itself felt, Simon heard the Boyoyo Boys, and decided to make an album in South Africa, despite the cultural boycott at that time against the racist regime. The album was Graceland - and it had a massive, cultural, musical, and social impact. The album was not without controversy, which continues to this day, but it was, without a doubt, a landmark album, and one that - at last - outshone what Simon had done with Simon & Garfunkel. While the jury may still be out on the enduring legacy of Bridge Over Troubled Water (lovely though it is - is it a lasting piece of work, or it is ephemeral?), without a doubt, Graceland is a towering work of art, that will be listened to and studied for years to come. A clear, and quite wonderful classic. 





Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. (1964)

Their debut. A folky album, quite nicely done, with a mix of traditional folk songs and Paul Simon originals. This is a very pleasant and listenable album.  It didn't sell, so the boys broke up - Simon moving to England where he recorded his first solo album. When "Sounds of Silence", overdubbed with electric instruments, became a surprise hit, the boys reunited, and the album was re-released in 1966.  The version of "The Sound of Silence" on the album is the original without the electric over-dubbing.

When I first reviewed this I thought it was a "sadly over-looked album", but on revisiting it I don't think that's the case. There's some pleasant stuff, some ordinary stuff, and some poor stuff. Overall, this is a weak album, but has an interest as the debut of Simon & Garfunkel.

Wikipedia
AllMusic: 6
Score: 4

Sounds of Silence  (Jan 1966

Their second album cashes in on the success of the overdubbed "The Sound of Silence" - the album opens with that version. All the songs apart from the instrumental "Anji", were written by Simon. There are drums and electric instruments in line with what the public were expecting, and in the mood of the time for folk music to be modern and electric. It lacks the charm of the all acoustic debut album, though  "I Am A Rock" is classic Simon & Garfunkel, and appears on their 1972 Greatest Hits album. Overall it's not a great album, but is competent enough and quite listenable. It is a slightly better album than the debut, but lacks the geeky charm.

Wikipedia
AllMusic: 7
Score: 4



Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (Oct 1966

The duo were now popular because of the chance success of "The Sound of Silence"; they had reformed and rushed out the lacklustre but intermittently likeable and promising Sounds of Silence album. The next album would make or break them. They spent three months working on it - the combination of Simon's song-writing ability,  Garfunkel's obsessive perfectionism, and the attractive mix of their voices resulted in a magnificent album - a quantum leap forward on anything they had done before. While not quite fully rejecting electric instruments, the boys had a strong folky and acoustic feel on the album, and included the traditional folk song "Scarborough Fair" as the opening track. Their reputations were now made. This is a beautiful album, and a great artistic achievement.

Wikipedia
AllMusic: 9
Score: 7


The Graduate (Jan 1968)

The boys are strongly associated with The Graduate film, though they only wrote one song specially for the soundtrack, and that song wasn't used in its full version. Everything by Simon & Garfunkel on the soundtrack is available on other albums, so this can safely be skipped, other than a mention for its cultural significance.

Wikipedia
AllMusic: 6
Score: 3

 Bookends  (April 1968)

The somewhat tricky album between Parsley and Bridge. It's a brief album - around 25 minutes of music. Concept albums were all the rage in 1968, so Simon had a go on the first side - critics love concept albums because it gives them something to write about, but mostly they fail because the writers are focusing so much on telling the story, or ensuring that the songs fit "the concept" that the value of the music itself tends to take a back stage. The attempt to be serious and conceptual doesn't work for me (though critics like it) - Voices of Old People is just that, over two minutes of old people talking - that wears thin after a while, and on repeated listenings that's a track you want to skip. There are some decent songs, but not enough to make up for the weak songs and the failed conceptual experiment.

Wikipedia
AllMusic:
Score: 4
 
Bridge Over Troubled Water  (1969)

It's a masterpiece. One of the greatest albums ever made.

Wikipedia
AllMusic: 10
Score: 10

Greatest Hits  (1972) 

Released two years after they split. There was no hurry because in the interim Bridge Over Troubled Waters was selling massively and was still in the top of the album charts week after week. It was only when Bridge dropped out of the charts that the record company felt a new product was needed. This beautifully captures the best of their five year output. A wonderful summary of what they were.

Wikipedia
AllMusic:
Score: 8

The Concert in Central Park (1982)

 The boys reunited in 1981 for a benefit concert to raise money for Central Park. They played in front of  an estimated half million people. The songs are a mix of their classics and Simon's own solo work. Mainly it's a nice bit of nostalgia; the boys do OK considering their tense relationship, but the whole thing lacks genuine warmth, and little of interest happens.

Wikipedia
AllMusic:
Score: 3


Old Friends: Live On Stage (2004) 

More nostalgia. The boys sound more relaxed and confident, so there is a better, more authentic, feel to this, though the voices are weak in places. On the whole I prefer this, slightly, to the Central Park album.

Wikipedia
AllMusic:
Score: 4




The Paul Simon Songbook (1965)

Simon's first solo album, recorded in London during his period in the UK after Simon & Garfunkel had split up in 1964 when their first album sold poorly and it appeared there was to be no future for them. Most of the songs on this album Simon would use again for Simon & Garfunkel. There is a sparse feel about the album - some of the tracks, such as "Sound of Silence" and "I Am A Rock", sound more like demos rather than finished productions, but that gives it a certain charm and immediacy, and makes this album stand out in interesting comparison with some of the over-worked productions that these songs went through with Simon & Garfunkel.  I like this.

Wikipedia
AllMusic: 8
Score: 5

Paul Simon (1972
Simon's first proper solo album after the proper breakup of Simon & Garfunkel (for many years he did not regard Songbook as part of his oeuvre, and when Columbia released it in America in 1969 he had them immediately withdraw it). This album sounds like proper Paul Simon rather than the hesitant folky of Songbook.   He has found his voice and style, and what is heard here will be heard on all his future albums. The opening track, "Mother and Child Reunion",  is by far the best track, and the story of its making will be repeated years later for Graceland. Simon liked reggae, and in particular Jimmy Cliff's "Vietnam", so he recorded the song in Kingston, Jamaica, where Cliff had recorded, and using the same musicians.

A decent album, and setting Simon on the path to Graceland.

Wikipedia
AllMusic: 10
Score: 6

There Goes Rhymin' Simon  (1973

This sold better than the previous album, but I like it slightly less. The songs are OK, but it just feels like he's going through the motions. I like "Take Me to the Mardi Gras", but it is a fairly modest song. It's not an album that's really going to set the world on fire, but is pleasant enough.

Wikipedia
AllMusic: 10
Score: 4


Paul Simon in Concert: Live Rhymin' (1974
A pleasant album with a mix of songs from Simon's career up to that point. There is a warmth to the performances on side one, which are sparse and folky, similar in style to how Simon started out. Side two he is joined by fellow musicians and he is more expansive and adventurous, providing an interesting contrast.

Wikipedia
AllMusic:
Score: 5

Still Crazy After All These Years  (1975

While everyone agrees that Graceland is Simon's major work, there is some uncertainty as to what comes next. A number of people like his first post S&G album, Paul Simon, a few others like the second one, Rhymin' Simon,  some critics find Hearts and Bones interesting, while a good number of folks, public and critics, like this one. Put me in the camp that likes this one. It may be because I had it back in 1975, and have enjoyed playing it over the years - but I like to think that I acquired it back then because there was something about this album that appealed to me which was not the case for any of his other solo albums apart from Graceland. There is a cohesive feel about the album. The others feel like a selection of songs; this feels like an album. The melodic jazz tones ease the listener through some sardonic observations of middle life. There is the sense of the weight of life on his shoulders - not the life of a pop star, but of an individual, just like the listener. There are none of the social optimisms of youth, the joy and humour of falling in love, of starting up friendships, of quietly challenging authority, this is a mature person looking at himself at middle age - just like his audience, who had grown up with him. There is reflection on the past, some nostalgia (and most effectively done in conjunction with Garfunkel on My Little Town - a nice touch, especially in the dark rejection of that nostalgia), as well as a quiet sense of potential rebellion wrapped up in the lyrics - indeed, the title captures that feeling so tellingly. There is the sense of solidity in the word "Still", but also a sense of regret, a sense of wanting a change to come. "After All These Years" captures the sense of the past, the passing years, the experiences. "Crazy" has that hint of potential rebellion. It's a clever title, both self-satisfied, yet regretting. Stuff happens, will happen, has happened. As he says: " Love emerges and it disappears". Life goes on. Indeed, there are numerous mentions of the seasons - time passing, coming round again. But mostly the lyrics focus on the ending of relationships - which is what had happened to Simon who had just divorced his first wife.

Wikipedia
AllMusic: 9
Score: 7

One Trick Pony  (1980

Nearly five years after his last album, and after dabbling in acting in Annie Hall, and writing a soundtrack for Shampoo, he released a soundtrack and film of his own. The film, about an ageing and unsuccessful rock star (played by himself, but clearly not autobiographical, but possibly an alternative view of what might have happened to Simon had "Sounds of Silence" not been a surprise quirky hit), was not a big success, but is not regarded as a turkey.  The music is downbeat and world weary. It's OK, but there's little of significance here, just another middle of the road singer-songwriter.

Wikipedia
AllMusic: 6
Score: 4

Hearts and Bones  (1983
Made just after Simon & Garfunkel's Central Park concert, this was intended to be their reunion album, but after encountering too much stress and tension in the making of the album, Simon finished it as a solo album. Some critics find stuff here of interest - I haven't yet found my way into it.  I will return.

Wikipedia
AllMusic: 9
Score: 4

Graceland (1986)

An exceptional album.

Wikipedia
AllMusic: 10
Score: 10

The Rhythm of the Saints (1990)

The follow up to Graceland was commercially and critically accepted. I'm not sure, though, that this is an album that will endure.

Wikipedia
AllMusic: 8
Score: 4 1/2

Concert in The Park (1991) 

Careless arrangements which don't add anything new to the songs, but which frustrate those looking to hear old favourites, an exhausting selection of songs which end with a series of Simon & Garfunkel songs rather than with Simon's more substantial solo recordings, and a performance which seems rather throwaway for a grand concert in Central Park in front of several hundred thousand people plus several million watching live on TV.  Production is crisp, such that it feels at times to be a studio rather than a live recording - indeed, there is a lack of live atmosphere, despite crowd noises. On the whole I find this a disappointing album.

Wikipedia
AllMusic: 8
Score: 4


Songs from The Capeman (1997)

Struggling with this.

Wikipedia
AllMusic: 4
Score: 3


You're The One (2000)
It's not grabbing me.

Wikipedia
AllMusic: 6
Score: 4


Surprise (2006)
A collaboration with Brian Eno. More interesting than attractive. It's not surprising. It's not drawing me in.

Wikipedia
AllMusic: 9
Score: 4



The Essential (2007)
A compilation album. Too much stuff in general. And too much inferior material. Not essential. A little bit boring.

Wikipedia
AllMusic: 9
Score: 3


So Beautiful Or So What (2011)
I kinda like this and want to investigate further.

Wikipedia
AllMusic: 9
Score: 6

Stranger To Stranger (2016)

Oooh, I'm liking this.

Wikipedia
AllMusic: 8
Score: 7


The Concert In Hyde Park (2017)
Recorded in 2012 this is a confident and lively album mostly focusing on songs from Graceland, and, apart from "Sound Of Silence", staying away from his earlier material with Garfunkel; as such it is a more representative and homogeneous record of the mature Paul Simon, and generates a genuine live atmosphere. And when Ladysmith Black Mambazo come on for the Graceland songs it is so beautiful and so moving that it can reduce me to tears. Great stuff.

AllMusic: 7
Score: 8 1/2


In The Blue Light (2018)

Simon re-records some of his lesser or lesser-known songs. Because they are new arrangements of songs that most people wouldn't remember anyway, it is effectively a new album. It's a puzzling concept.

Wikipedia
AllMusic: 6
Score: 4

Discography


The Paul Simon Songbook (1965)
Paul Simon (1972)
There Goes Rhymin' Simon (1973)
Still Crazy After All These Years (1975)
One-Trick Pony (1980)
Hearts and Bones (1983)
Graceland (1986)
The Rhythm of the Saints (1990)
Songs from The Capeman (1997)
You're the One (2000)
Surprise (2006)
So Beautiful or So What (2011)
Stranger to Stranger (2016)
In the Blue Light (2018)





No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments welcome