Paul Simon Songwriter Review

Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Simon selects highlights from his solo career, with You Can Call Me Al oddly omitted.

Sean Egan 2011

In interviews shortly after his 1970 professional split from Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon spoke of fulfilling a desire to produce the more rhythmic work that the penchant for lushness of his dulcet-toned partner of five albums had stymied. As this 32-track compilation of his solo career demonstrates, he then puzzlingly proceeded to issue a string of albums marked by an increasingly laidback tone. Tracks like American Tune and Still Crazy After All These Years are only saved from soporific stupor by melodies so gorgeous you can almost taste them. Even the geo-political thoughtfulness of allusion to Latin American insurrection Peace Like a River doesn't break the mould of tuneful gentleness. With odd exceptions such as the percolating reggae Mother and Child Reunion and the breakneck and surprisingly vehement denunciation of American corn Kodachrome (Paul Simon knew the word "crap"!), the artist seemed to be sinking into MOR.

Only with 1986’s Graceland did Simon fulfil that promise of musical funkiness. Typical of this collection’s wilful eccentricity, though three Graceland tracks are included, its blockbuster single You Can Call Me Al is not among them. So successful was Graceland in introducing Simon to a whole new generation, he could have gotten away with not including Simon & Garfunkel material herein. In point of fact, he does throw in a trio of songs associated with S&G. Unnecessary at best – none are the familiar, well-loved versions – their presence becomes positively irritating in light of the absence of quality Simon solo hits like Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover and Slip Slidin' Away.

Rather worryingly, after Graceland Simon denounced the "melodic crap" he had supposedly produced before that album. Luckily the ‘non-melodic’ stuff is hived off on this roughly chronologically-arranged release to disc two. Though there are odd gems like Simon’s touching ode to a child, Father and Daughter, it yields up significantly fewer pleasures or well-known songs than the first disc.

The publicity sheet states the tracklisting to be "chosen by the composer". A songwriter Paul Simon indubitably is, but an able judge of his own talent or album compiler he is not.

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