Title - 'So Beautiful or So What' (HEAR Music)
Artist - Paul Simon
Paul Simon doesn't crank out releases the way he used to but always pops up every five years or so with a new album, with different results of course. But one thing that can always be guarenteed is an overall high level of quality and he isn't about to give up on his talents as one of America's most revered songwriters.
A lot has happened in the world around Simon during the last five years since he released an album and on this recording, which reunites him with his classic 70's producer Phil Ramone on an album that contains the same sort of strong melodies and unique mixtures of different rhythmic stylings, while still presenting another new concept. Which actually says something about where Simon sees himself in the world and the effect those observations are having on the psyche of others.
"Getting Ready For Christmas Day" sets a great tone; a chuggin uptempo folk/soul rocker featuring the Reverand JM Gates and his congregation in the backround as Simon speaks of the joys of the holiday set against.....say soldiers spending yet another year overseas in whatever war is being faught. On the zydeco styled rave up of "The Afterlife" to the full on return to South African pop on "Rewrite" the theme becomes clear on this album; that the kinds of issues Simon saw around him in the 60's and 70's have not disappeared, but more become so enormous they've gone out of people's notice almost entirely.
But there's no cynicism here either as slower,more melodically anthemic tunes such as the deeply spiritual "Love Is Eternal Sacred Light","Amulet" and "Questions For The Angels" deal directly with those seeking answers to their questions more from on high than within themselves.
This poetic outlook on the similarities to two generations facing something somewhat similar sociologically comes to a head on the title song,which musically ends the album the way it begins while making it clear that Simon is more than aware of what's going on around him and isn't quite the old singer-songwriter fossil stereotype some of his contempories seemed once in danger of becomming.
So here we have a conceptually/lyricall rich and potent album that presents an array of different songs that take new and exciting production and rhythmic spins on ideas Simon's explored,and on some he hasn't and it does in fact emerge as one of his strong recent albums for that very reason. It's been a long time since a new Paul Simon album was really much of a cause of excitment with me because they seemed to have a hit or miss nature from song to song. On this one there isn't anything like that and it's worth just about any music lover to hear it. [AG]