Paul Simon. My goodness Paul Simon! He’s 74 years old for goodness sake. When he was in his mid 20s he came across to England wrote songs like Homeward Bound. Great song. Just a few guitar chords, good, melody and clever lyrics. Fifty years later and none of us would argue if he churned out a few crafted songs in the same ilk.
Not Paul Simon. As his career has gone on he has seemed more and more adventurous. Whether the South African Township sounds that gave us the iconic Graceland record, or the South America rhythms of The Rhythm Of The Saints, or bringing Brian Eno on board as sonic landscaper on Surprise, he has always pushed the envelope of his soundscapes.
And so with his thirteenth solo record, Stranger To Stranger. Paul Simon is at it again, bringing us fresh and vital sounds and rhythms. The flamenco obsession is still there and then he adds the unique microtonal instruments of Harry Partch and then most fascinating of all Italian electronic artist Clap! Clap!
Once the musical intrigue has grabbed your interest, Simon then layers on rhymes, slights of poetic hand and a comedians humorous timing. Into all of that comes social comment, spiritual questioning and introspective reflection. It is all encompassing, intense and altogether enjoyable.
Lyrically Simon has me in the very first verse:
Milwaukee man led a fairly decent life
Made a fairly decent living, had a fairly decent wife
She killed him.
…Ah, sushi knife
Now they're shopping for a fairly decent afterlife
How brilliant is that!? Yet, there is more than humour going on in The Werewolf. This song is about judgement personal and social. The social lines are as funny but as poignant: -
The fact is most obits are mixed reviews
Life is a lottery, a lotta people lose
And the winners, the grinners with money-colored eyes
Eat all the nuggets, then they order extra fries
The second track has been the lead off radio play. Wristband is a word and title that shouldn’t work, particularly for a songwriter of Simon’s poetic finesse but it does. Apparently it was Irish poet Paul Muldoon who convinced him to keep it in.
It’s another funny story. Rock Star walks out of the venue and cannot get back in without a wristband. Again the humour gives way to a serious point:
The riots started slowly
With the homeless and the lowly
Then they spread into the heartland
Towns that never get a wristband
Kids that can't afford the cool brand
Whose anger is a short-hand
For you'll never get a wristband
And if you don't have a wristband
Then you can't get through the door
Paul Simon can make you laugh but ultimately there is no small talk on a Paul Simon record. As well as the social comment Simon has been rather obsessed with the spiritual in recent records. So with Stranger To Stranger. Proof Of Love is about a pilgrimage he made to a spiritual healer in Brazil.
I trade my tears
To ask The lord
For proof of love
If only for the consolation
Of gazing at the stars above
The final song (before the extra tracks), Insomniac’s Lullaby was the first song written and it again is a bit of a prayer:
Oh Lord, don’t keep me up all night
With questions I can’t understand
While I wrestle my fears
The sound in my ears
Is the music that’s sweeping the land
The Insomniacs Lullaby.
As Paul Simon hits his mid 70s he is as crucial as ever. His songs are of more soul substance than anything he has ever written. Stranger To Stranger went to Number 1 in the British charts for goodness sake. Heart, soul and mind tingling!