CK Retro Review: One-Trick Pony by Paul SimonPosted: September 13, 2013
The quasi-soundtrack to Paul Simon’s largely forgotten movie of the same name, 1980’s One-Trick Pony was the singer-songwriter’s first album in five years. The absence didn’t result in a ton of inspiration, however, as the album, although expertly played and rarely less than solid, was lacking in truly killer songs, at least compared to Simon’s previous track record. Here is a song-by-song review.
10. “That’s Why God Made The Movies”- If you wanted to sum up the album’s overall flaw, it’s that there are several tracks that have too much of a sleepy vibe. Some of the better ones compensate with intriguing lyrics or affecting melodies, but this one is a bit of a bore.
9. “Jonah”- Maybe this is one is too specifically catered to the hard life of a musician to resonate to a wider audience. Maybe the arrangement is more tasteful than animated. Whatever it is, “Jonah” never quite catches fire.
8. “Nobody”- A familiar-sounding paean to a significant other who solves all the narrator’s problems, it’s got several nice moments. Best of all is the interlude featuring the solo by Eric Gale and Simon’s walled backing vocals which aren’t all that dissimilar from “The Only Living Boy In New York.”
7. “Ace In The Hole”- It’s suitably gritty and played to the hilt (in a live take) by the crack band Simon assembled. Still, Paul seems much more at home with the more melancholy shades of the melody than when he’s tasked with keeping up with duet partner Richard Tee in the faster-paced sections.
6. “God Bless The Absentee”- Again, the whole life-on-the-road vein has been mined many, many times before, so that’s a bit of a strike against this one. Still, Simon’s lyrics are heartfelt enough to get him by, especially when his narrator opines touchingly on the son left behind at home.
5. “Oh, Marion”- The main section has a little bit of a Steely Dan vibe to it, both in the jazz-funk in the music and the acidic tone of Simon’s lyrics. The dreamy middle section is a real beauty, with Paul soaring into an upper register to really bare his pain. Great lines in that part as well: “The only time/That love is an easy game/Is when two other people are playing it.” Ain’t that the truth.
4. “Long, Long Day”- Simon can do this kind of after-hours stuff with both hands behind his back, so a song like this one can easily get taken for granted. Patti Austin helps out on vocals, offering some romantic solace to the narrator. Paul’s own vocal is understatedly great You can feel every mile the narrator has traveled and every time his heart has been broken in the subtle weariness in his voice.
3. “How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns”- That poetic title doesn’t quite capture’s the laid-back vibe this song emanates, but it does match the romantic drama perpetrated in the lyrics. Some lovely guitar work by Paul and Eric Gale highlight a pitch-perfect rendering by the band. The final image of the narrator all alone in some lonely restaurant failing to connect to the object of all that yearning is a real grabber.
2. “One-Trick Pony”- This is the one point in the album when some genuine passion sparks up through all of the measured ruminations. Maybe it’s the live setting that helps it along, but more likely it’s the song itself with its inherent feistiness that does the trick. In the portion when Simon compares his own fumbling efforts to the steady efficiency of the title character, the music comes alive to a point where it’s almost startling compared to the placid exterior of most of the tracks around it.
1. “Late In The Evening”- At the very least, the opening track proved that Simon hadn’t lost anything in terms of his ability to construct an irresistible single. Steve Gadd, the hero of “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover,” does it again here with his nimble stick work in conjunction with Tony Levin’s hopscotching bassline. The lyrics are like a mini-autobiography, with Simon bouncing through pivotal moments in his character’s life. It ends with the love of his life and an explosion of horns, but, at every stop along the way, music is in the background of the scene and at the forefront of his heart.
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