CK Retro Review: Still Crazy After All These Years by Paul SimonPosted: September 9, 2013
For 1975’s Still Crazy After All These Years, Paul Simon made his version of a traditional singer-songwriter album. Although it isn’t as musically adventurousness as some of his earlier discs, the album features some of Simon’s most cutting lyrics. It also might be his most downbeat album, full of mid-life crises, romantic ennui, dead-end hometowns and baseball fatalities. Still, even though it stagnates a bit on Side Two, it’s another fascinating effort. Here is a song-by-song review.
10. “You’re Kind”- This is pretty much a one-joke premise about a guy who can’t stand romantic prosperity and kicks away the best thing he ever had for trivial reasons. (Although I’m with the narrator: I prefer the window open when I sleep.) It’s sort of funny the first time, but it just takes up space after that.
9. “Gone At Last”- While it’s not certain whether the meeting that saves the narrator of this song is of a spiritual or romantic nature, what is clear is that the gospel music within the song, a duet with Phoebe Snow, is a little more pedestrian than praiseworthy.
8. “Night Game”- I think it’s safe to say that Paul didn’t intend it to be taken literally that the hurler bites it in this song, a la Michael Madsen when he crashes through the wall in The Natural. It seems more a symbolic death that haunts this strange but interesting mood piece. The imagery is striking, especially the closing lines: “And the tarpaulin was rolled/Upon the winter frost.”
7. “Have A Good Time”- Since Simon pretty much sat out the late 70’s as a recording artist, he didn’t get drawn into disco. This tongue-in-cheek track is probably as close as he ever came. The lyrics depict a clown who is willing to ignore all reality, both in terms of the problems in his personal life and the issues that plague the world at large, in pursuit of temporary enjoyment. A bit broad, but still clever.
6. “Silent Eyes”- Simon doesn’t get too specific with his observations on Jerusalem, yet his compassion is evident from the power of his vocal. The choir does provide a few moments of solemn beauty, but when you add that to the dramatic piano flourishes, it makes “Silent Eyes” seem just a bit too in-your-face about its intentions as a important with a capital ‘I’ album-closer.
5. “Some Folks Lives Roll Easy”- Like many Simon songs, this one starts without a lot of fanfare yet surprises you with its potency somewhere along the line. It begins with Paul making generalized observations about the fates of certain people compared to others. Everything seems matter-of-fact until it builds to the singer practically wailing out the closing lines, showing that maybe he’s more affected by it than he lets on. Sneaky good.
4. “I Do It For Your Love”- Propelled by a lovely blend of instruments, Simon’s ruminates unsentimentally on marriage. It seems that if you tie the knot, all you have to look forward to are bad pipes, shared illnesses, and ill-chosen floor decorations. Oh, and you also get “The sting of reason/The splash of tears,” which is when the black comedy doesn’t seem so funny anymore. The song is no pick-me-up, but its honesty is potent.
3. “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”- There aren’t too many songs with a drum beat as the hook, but, courtesy of sessionman Steve Gadd’s little martial rumble, this major hit is one of them. I’ve always found that the jokey chorus skews a little too close to novelty-song territory for my taste. Luckily, the somber verses help to atone for it, especially in the way that Simon contrasts those blunt refrains with the exceedingly formal and polite conversation between the narrator and his mistress.
2. “My Little Town”- Welcome back, Artie! This reunion proved that the inimitable chemistry between Simon and Garfunkel hadn’t dulled a bit in their five-year-recording hiatus. It helped that Simon wrote a great song. In typically counterintuitive Simon fashion, he chose this occasion of great nostalgia to write a song that pokes holes all over the idyllic visions one might have of their hometown, painting a picture of an unimaginative, stifling place that leaves the narrator “Twitching like a finger/On the trigger of a gun.” When the duo tear into that piercing refrain (“Nothing but the dead of night back in my little town”), it’s clear they left that old burg behind long ago.
1. “Still Crazy After All These Years”- Whether it was a self-portrait or a character sketch of middle-aged malaise, Simon gets the lyrics, simple and yet telling, just right on the title track. In the last verse, when he admits to worrying about how he’ll handle the future, this seemingly harmless little lament gains a lot more heft. The music is simply brilliant, reflecting the narrator’s plight: The sad yet resigned electric piano of Barry Beckett in the main section, the edgy strings in the bridge, and the resilient sax solo of Mike Brecker, which brings the song to a towering peak.
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