The Quiet Little Man
CD Stock Number: Warner 9362-47844-2
The irrepressible Paul Simon is a hit maker 'par excellence'. I know, because I am a card-carrying member of the Paul Simon fan club. I own all of his record albums and all of his CDs (with the notable exception of one). When the little "hates to tour" man came to town, I quelled my "an outdoor stadium is no place for a concert" mutterings and thoroughly enjoyed his impeccable 12-piece band syncopation. No doubt, I will buy his next CD and attend any local concert, should he ever resume touring.
For decades of Simon's tunes fill the halls of pop music. From the poetic 60's "Sounds of Silence" to the bopping 90's "You Can Call Me Al" (punctuated with one of the most delectable bass riffs in modern rock). Paul Simon was once, has been again and may still (with his tribute to heros CD coming soon) be one of the best selling folk-rock artists in the world. However his last album, You're The One, released in October last year, is not a resounding hall-of-fame piece of work. I do like this unique CD, although it is a very different genre.
You're The One is not another toe tapping Graceland (Warner, 1986) or the Rhythm of the Saints (BMI, 1990) syncopation tour-de-force. It does not have any of the irrepressibly happy tunes of most of his work. While the new songs do exhibit some of the taut South African percussion from the rollicking Graceland, and they do have some of the lush South American tempos of The Rhythm of the Saint, they are the polite, edited for TV, versions of the original. In fact, like network TV, You're The One is easy to wander away from - easy to miss what he is saying, easy to miss his careful crafting. The entire CD is mellow like Merlot, a dusky red wine in a tweedy jacket. It closely resembles the "Peace like a River" and "Papa Hobo" tunes, on his 1972 debut solo album, from beginning to end. Gentle tunes. Nice melodies. Not chart busters. The quiet little man has produced a quiet little album. It is not chock full of rocking melodies and memorable lyrics.
Accomplished lyricist that he is, Simon still excels at polite social commentary, story telling and master weaving of intricately controlled instruments. While his lyrics and melodies have mellowed with age, his superb craftmanship has not. He is still a potent poet, but his themes like the punch of sixties rebellion. On his hit packed 1972 inaugural solo release Paul Simon, he once brazenly wrote:
"Couple in the next room, bound to win a prize,
Now, decades and numerous successes and marriages and New York Central Park concerts later, the demure songwriter/composer/producer merely murmurs:
"G-d is old, he broke the mold".
The rest of You're The One is filled with the same pithy, stirring, but hardly memorable, lyrics. They are not the biting social commentaries that moved and inspired rebellious generations at the depths of their souls. They are not the rhythmic words and bopping tunes which propelled neo-conservative Yuppies through their working lifestyles of middle age. They are not the Simon of the sixties, seventies, eighties or even the nineties. This is the Simon of the new millennia. It is not the Simons that I know and love, but it is a Simon I like - one I can grow to love.
This does not mean that Simon is not passionate about his love songs and life. He clearly is. Indeed, You're The One reflects his current passion. It is about love, living and coming of age. It is a peaceful album. It is as peaceful as the sedate tunes on his first album. This is Simon's quietest and most reserved album, not including his dismal and disappointing Broadway acappella, Songs from The Capeman (BMI, 1997). The CD Warehouse clerk warned me that this disc bounced back faster than a racquetball off a concrete wall. The Capeman is the only piece of Simon's work that I do not own. It is a purely vocal album with so little foot tapping music, and lyrics so highbrow, quiet and reserved that I immediately returned the used version the next day.
On You're The One, each of his songs is similar to one another, like Sade's songs are similar to one another and as simple as Tracy Chapman's folksy New Beginning (Electra, 1995). If you like the quiet version of Tracy Chapman, you will probably like this one too. This soft You're The One collection does grow on you, but at the tail end of the evening, with the TV off and the lights down low, it is the Sade, McLaughlin or Krall discs that I reach for, not the new incarnation of Simon. For a hit maker 'par excellent', this is the criticism with the sharpest sting - there are others toiling in this field that mine better gold.
Sound Quality: 75