CK Retro Review: Paul Simon by Paul SimonPosted: September 3, 2013
So how could one ever follow up the majesty of Simon & Garfunkel’s final albums? In Paul Simon’s case, he took a little time off, chose some ace session players, and returned in 1972 with a self-titled solo album that dialed down the grandeur and upped the ante on loose-limbed music. As a result, Paul Simon may lack the chill-inducing songs of his best work with Artie, but it may be more consistently fun and fine than any of the duo’s albums. Here is a song-by-song review.
11. “Hobo Blues”- It’s a brief interstitial instrumental featuring legendary violinist Stephane Grappelli, whom rock fans know for his cameo on Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”
10. “Papa Hobo”- Other than the singles, it’s hard to find a song on this album that doesn’t shift its musical shape a couple of times. “Papa Hobo” starts out as a gentle acoustic stroll before some bass harmonica and harmonium create a circus-like vibe. Simon’s sings understated lyrics about a woebegone denizen of Detroit. It’s a bit elusive but intriguing nonetheless.
9. “Armistice Day”- This one comes off like an instrumental that Paul just added lyrics to as an afterthought. Those lyrics veer from the personal to the political with little rhyme or reason, but the real draw here is the way the music transforms from stark and desolate into a boogie jaunt without ever drawing attention to the fact that it’s making such a nimble leap.
8. “Paranoia Blues”- Simon seems to have his tongue in his cheek throughout, undercutting the edgy bottleneck guitar and thumping beat with some playful horns, just as he takes the sting out of the lyrics about drug harassment and fake friends with concerns about stolen Chinese food. Those contrasts pull this one a surprisingly long way.
7. “Everything Put Together Falls Apart”- Simon was only a little past 30 years old when the album came out, yet the world-weariness he exudes on this lament is palpable. The melody wends its way unpredictably along with no concern for where it’s been, while Simon sings as if the heaviness of it all is about to crush him. It’s clear from this song that Paul thought that the bill was due for all of the excess of the 60’s.
6. “Congratulations”- “Love’s no romance,” Simon sings here, and that’s the ultimate theme to this melancholy closing track. Some of the jazz-inflected dreaminess that would come to mark much of Paul’s 70’s output can be first traced to “Congratulations,” as Larry Knechtel’s electric piano is the perfect accompaniment for the narrator’s broken-hearted journey.
5. “Run That Body Down”- This is another song that suggests a kind of malaise that blanketed Simon’s generation at the start of the 70’s. The whole save-the-world, peace-on-Earth vibe is subordinated here to self-preservation in terms of a person looking after his own health. Paul sings it beautifully, some lovely falsetto in the chorus suggesting stubborn wanderlust in the mind of a broken-down body.
4. “Duncan”- After the great results he achieved from working with them on “El Condor Pasa (If I Could)”, Simon invited Los Incas to perform their Andes Mountains magic on this track. Those exotic flutes compliment the adventures of Lincoln Duncan, one of Simon’s lonely wanderers who stumbles into spiritual and sexual bliss at the end of his song. I wouldn’t call it a happy ending, since the music tips toward wistfulness and Duncan’s journeys seem far from over, but at least the kid has his music if all else fails.
3. “Peace Like A River”- The idealism that seems squelched elsewhere on the album wins the day on this track. Simon’s gritty acoustic guitar work in the verses beautifully sets up the transcendent chorus, in which the dreamers challenge the schemers to do their worst, knowing that righteousness will win the day. The narrator wakes up from his glorious reverie in the final verse to gird himself for the fight, his resilience an inspiration for anybody listening.
2. “Mother And Child Reunion”- Even though they were vastly different in tone than some of his classics with Garfunkel, Simon’s early solo singles were just as captivating in their own way. In the case of “Mother And Child Reunion,” the ebullience of the reggae wouldn’t have worked quite as well had Simon not worked some melancholy into the verses, giving the music something over which it can triumph. Cissy Houston is among the backing vocalists who bring some gospel testifying to the islands.
1. “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard”- This song may be the quintessence of Simon’s never-ending search for just the right sound for his records. People who get caught up in the story and try to figure out its mysteries are probably missing the point, since Paul was likely far more interested in the sounds that the words were making than their intended meaning. The impossibly crisp guitars and Airto Moreira’s hip-swiveling percussion are a combination that’s impossible to resist, and that’s what keeps the song so fresh after all these years, not any concern over what just Mama Pajama saw.
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