Thursday, May 11, 2006

More on Paul Simon

More and more critics are singing the praises of Paul Simon's Surprise-ing new album, including Paste's ever-reliable Andy Whitman:

Surprise is Simon’s most unabashedly autobiographical work since 1983’s Hearts and Bones. He sings about his wife, his children and the hole in his soul that seems unable to be filled. He looks for answers in family and God, but the answers are complicated, and they resonate with unresolved dilemmas. On “Sure Don’t Feel Like Love” Simon’s deceptively cheery melody masks a sucker punch as he ponders the chemistry of teardrops—mere electrolytes and salt—and why that chemistry doesn’t even begin to explain the calculus of sorrow and regret. On “I Don’t Believe” he wonders why the idyllic, sun-dappled family times are so ephemeral, and why the next day always dawns grey and bleak. Eno wraps these conundrums in his patented ambient gauze, which perfectly mirrors the disquieting, ruminative songwriting. Bill Frisell’s guitars and Herbie Hancock’s keyboards peek through occasionally, but it’s Eno’s production, and Simon’s impressive acoustic fingerpicking—again, his best since Hearts and Bones—that mark this album, sonically.
Meanwhile, Jeffrey Overstreet blogs his first impressions:

It's fresh, bright, meditative, spontaneous, amusing, revealing, testimonial, atmospheric, and (as Josh Hurst promised) the best thing he's done since The Rhythm of the Saints (although Saints remains my favorite by far).

It's also surprisingly focused on God, the need for him, the mysterious ways in which he works.
But not everyone thinks it's so pleasant. No surprises here: Pitchfork rips it.

Contractually mandated "surprise" pun: In the end, Eno really isn't one. Talking Heads' 1980 Remain in Light owed as much to African polyrhythms as Simon's wildly successful Graceland did six years later. Moreover, Simon has always changed trappings from album to album, bringing on Nile Rodgers and Philip Glass for 1983's underrated Hearts and Bones and looking to Brazil for 1990's Rhythm of the Saints. But while a trendy folk-rock arrangement initially made "The Sound of Silence" a hit, memorable songs made Simon & Garfunkel worthwhile. On Surprise, Simon neglects his strengths, and the record's Plastic Eno Band mud paint can't bring them back.

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