Saturday, April 16, 2011

Paul Simon - So Beautiful Or So What


Paul Simon - So Beautiful Or So What
2011, Hear Music

Five #1 albums.  13 GRAMMY Awards.  The Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.  The Rock N Roll Hall of Fame.  Paul Simon could never record another note and be remembered as one of the greatest singer/songwriters in American (or world) history.  Yet at the tender young age of seventy, Paul Simon releases his 11th solo album, So Beautiful Or So What, showing the same lyrical touch, melodic sensibility and musical complexity that his distinguished his work over a long and critically acclaimed career.

If the vigor of youth has begun to slip away from Simon, you'd never know it from listening to So Beautiful Or So What.  Simon is at the top of his game on the subtly complex collection of ten songs that may be his best work since Rhythm Of The Saints.  Simon opens with "Getting Ready For Christmas Day", contrasting the secular struggle with finances and gifts with the spiritual power of the Christmas story.  The arrangement is classic Simon with a modern twist.  The melody is timeless, drawn across an acoustic guitar progression that's as rhythmic as it is harmonic, and the chorus is speckled with spoken word sampling that adds an extra bit of rhythmic spice.  "The Afterlife" sounds like it could have been an outtake from the Rhythm Of The Saints sessions, and looks through the lens of humor at an afterlife overrun with the bureaucracy of man.  Simon's arrangement subtly melds musical and lyrical flavors that seem like they shouldn't work together but somehow do.

"Dazzling Blue" is a philosophical love song, blending influences from various stages in his career.  Delivered with a subtlety that continues to grow in depth with each passing year, Simon enters the realm of the sublime.  "Rewrite" opens with a complex, polyrhythmic progression on the acoustic guitar, and is written from the perspective of someone trying to come to terms with the mistakes of his past by re-crafting events to place himself in a better light.  Simon creates a character so real and dysfunctional that the song takes on a life of its own.  "Love & Hard Times" revisits the idea of making amends for past injustices, both personal and romantic, while acknowledging a current love.  It's a starkly beautiful exploration of how love can vanish and reform even in the midst of personal darkness. 

Simon deconstructs love in terms of good and evil in "Love Is Eternal Sacred Light".  The concept of abandonment resurfaces here (it was first raised in "Rewrite"), but this time the authorial voice is God himself.  It's an intriguing number that weaves its way through philosophical and theological considerations while attached to an incredibly catchy folk/rock arrangement. 

Simon shows off his guitar skills on the gorgeously free-form instrumental "Amulet".  Pensive and complex, the guitar players out there will be in awe on first listen.  "Questions For The Angels" is contemplative and quasi-spiritual.  Growing out of "Amulet", the song follows one seeking spiritual enlightenment in the sights and sounds of New York City.  "Love And Blessings" is an intriguing little number that juxtaposes blessings and curses, viewing them all from the bright side.  If there's a subtle implication that all are one and the same and a matter of perspective, then Simon has raised the bar on subtlety once again.  Simon closes with "So Beautiful Or So What", an incredibly catchy, low-tech folk rocker decrying the human tendency to overlook our own role in making our lives better.  Simon doesn't go quietly, and reminds us all that we don't have to either.

Paul Simon was a legend long before releasing So Beautiful Or So What.  But at an age when many legends are living off their expansive catalogues, Simon continues to create music as fresh and compelling as any he's written.  While it's impossible to judge, at this stage, what sort of competition he might have for the award itself, anything less than a GRAMMY nomination would be an insult.  So Beautiful Or So What displays the sort of musical excellence that truly comes along once or twice a generation, and can be nothing less than a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

 Learn more about Paul Simon at www.paulsimon.com or www.myspace.com/paulsimon.  So Beautiful Or So What is available from Amazon.com on CD, as a Limited Edition CD/DVD, on Vinyl and as a Download.  Digital copies are also available via iTunes.