Paul Simon: So Beautiful or So What
As one of the most iconic American
singer-songwriters of the 21st century, Paul Simon has influenced
generations of singers and listeners with his fusion of folk, pop and world
music, as well as his charming, relatable lyrics. Furthermore, his
twenty-year partnership with singer Art Garfunkel as Simon & Garfunkel produced some of the greatest American songs of all time, such as
‘Bridge over Troubled Water’, ‘Mrs. Robinson’ and ‘The Sound of Silence’.
His 1986 album Graceland
was arguably the highlight of his solo career, where Simon combined South
African township music with his trademark all-American lyrics. Featuring duos
with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Miriam Makeba, some of the greatest African singers of the time, Graceland was
a goldmine with hits like ‘You Can Call Me Al’ and ‘Diamonds on the Soles of
Gushing aside, his 2011 album So Beautiful So What is his twelfth record and marks a return to the
spirit of Graceland with his fusion
of world music including Indian percussions, South African melodies
and Graceland-influenced guitar riffs.
This may be Simon’s most spiritual album yet, where he tackles mortality, faith
and the afterlife; all signs of his increasing age (a sobering 69) and wisdom.
On ‘The Afterlife’ Simon sings ‘After I died/ And
the makeup had dried/ I went back to my place’: he tackles the sombre
life-after-death question with charm, wit and a light-hearted tale of the bureaucracy of waiting at the gates of
heaven (‘You got to fill out a form first/ And then you wait in the line’).
Blue’ combines country folk with an Indian tabla and melodies, including an
Indian vocalist that opens the song with a rhythm that he chants, reminiscent
of John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussein. The lyrics are
tender and whimsical, as he sings of a simple but sweet day at the beach.
On ‘Getting Ready for Christmas Day’ Simon samples
a 1940s preacher’s sermon that is interjected with his audience’s yeahs and the
catchy melody as he sings of the thin hope that preserves with every Christmas
as families hope for the return of their soldiers from the War in Iraq.
‘Amulet’ is a quiet display of Simon’s mastery as
an understated guitarist and a sweet intermission between the lyrically ingenious
tracks. The rest of the album’s tracks, such as ‘Love and Blessings’, will wash
over you like a warm ray of sun.
If you’re familiar with the music of Paul
Simon or if you enjoy folk and world music, then So Beautiful So What will appeal to you. It’s a subdued album but
full of technical artistry, great fusion of different music genres and
brilliant lyrics that take a few listens to grasp the genius of their charm.