CK Retro Review: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme by Simon & GarfunkelPosted: August 19, 2013
Ambitious popular music was de rigueur in 1966, so it was no surprise when Simon & Garfunkel upped their game for Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme. It’s a bit of a bumpy ride at times, but what emerges in toto is Simon’s consistent attack on the facades that hide the dark sides of seemingly innocuous and even pleasurable parts of life: advertising, weather, folk songs, relationships, even Christmas carols. Here is a song-by-song review.
12. “Patterns”- This is one of those cases where the big ideas got a bit carried away. Simon, of course, would master the art of musical adventurousness as the years went by, but the beatnik bongos and pot-profound musings on the patterns that enslave us all seriously date this song.
11. “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)”- Was it a riff on The Beatles “Good Day Sunshine?” A precursor to R.E.M.’s “Shiny Happy People?” A parody of hippie silliness? I’ve never been sure, but I’ve always been immune to its unrelenting cheeriness and the Muzak vibe it emanates. To each their own.
10. “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night”- For me, the contrast of the angelic Christmas evergreen with the bad news of the day was a bit obvious. Then again, maybe that’s because that kind of thing has been done to death by television producers for the past forty years. Nonetheless, the song sneaks into three-star territory based on the beauty of Paul and Artie’s caroling.
9. “A Poem On The Underground Wall”- Simon’s lyrics are a bit inscrutable here, but the arrangement earns a lot of points, what with the ominous bass drum playing off the acoustic guitar in magnetic fashion. Very ahead of its time. It makes whatever Paul is on about sound more enthralling than it has a right to be.
8. “The Big Bright Queen Pleasure Machine”- Again, this kind of broad satire was to be expected at the time of its release, and the fact that the same points have been made a million times since then shouldn’t be held against Simon. This one could have used some of Ray Davies’ deadpan in the lyrics and Mick Jagger’s sass in the delivery to put it across a bit better. Still, enough of Simons’ one-liners hit home, and the big, brassy music sounds ready-made for an advertising jingle.
7. “Cloudy”- Co-written with The Seekers’ Bruce Woodley, “Cloudy” is a lovely paean to aimlessness. The little guitar fills keep pulling us into Simon’s ruminations. It’s an odd thing, because this song about unfavorable weather ends up leaving the listener with a warm feeling. That’s due to that indefinable magic that Simon & Garfunkel could achieve whenever their voices came together.
6. “For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her”- When in doubt, give Garfunkel a tender melody and get out of the way. He effortlessly handles Simon’s flowery lyrics (a tad too flowery for my taste) with unerring touch. In the end, he pours on the power when he gets to the simple declaration “Oh, I love you, girl,” and it gives this gentle love poem to a dream girl some needed blood and grit.
5. “Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall”- This one has the same kind of rough-and-tumble, high-speed folk pace of The Beatles “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” only with a bit more lyrical ambition and depth. The parts are played to the hilt by the boys: Simon takes the verses and nails their frantic desire to find some meaning in life, before ceding to Garfunkel, who caresses the long syllables of the chorus and soothes all frayed spirits.
4. “A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d Into Submission)” – This skewering of Dylan’s mid-60’s lyrical persona is more loving than nasty, with Simon having a ball stepping into Bob’s hipster shoes and turning the names of pop-culture and political figures of the day into verbs. The organ is suitably Al Kooper-ific, and a little harmonica even slips into the mix. It’s one of the funnier songs to come out of that time period, early evidence that Simon, who, SNL skits aside, often gets painted as a somber fellow, has one of the best senses of humor among the great songwriters.
3. “Scarborough Fair (Canticle)”- I can’t give it five stars, only because the interweaving lyrics about the soldier, while lovely and piercing, can only really be heard in small snatches amidst the main melody, leaving basically an oft-sung folk song. You can get the gist of it though from the wounded nature of Garfunkel’s voice as he goes to town on the “Scarborough Fair” part. It’s one of those songs in which you can get hopelessly, wonderfully lost, until it ends and you’re jarred out of the reverie it has created.
2. “The Dangling Conversation”- It almost gets shanghaied by the heavy-handed strings, but the wonder of Simon’s melody is just too sturdy to shatter. As usual, Garfunkel’s harmonies are impeccable and emotionally on target all the way through, perfectly seconding Paul’s tale of a relationship deteriorating with a whimper instead of a bang. They say that the opposite of love is not hate but rather indifference, and “The Dangling Conversation” captures that via telling details that conjure a painful poignancy.
1.”Homeward Bound”- It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of some of the other songs on the album, which makes it stick out a bit as an outlier as you’re listening. (It was recorded much earlier than the rest, which explains it.) And yet it’s sheer perfection. The melody starts so downcast yet tries to break free from it with cathartic choruses. The words somehow transcend the specific lyrical references to a traveling performer and remain relevant to anyone in any walk of life missing home. I’m not sure anyone else in the 60’s rivaled The Beatles in terms of singles that combined pop catchiness and depth as well as Simon & Garfunkel, and “Homeward Bound” is one of their finest examples.
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