Monday, December 4, 2017

Landon Acclaims Paul Simon's "Stranger To Stranger"

This year, Paul Simon celebrated his 50th year as a musician. Which is absolutely ridiculous when you consider that he's been making new music semi-regularly for most of that time. It's been implied, sometime recently, that he's upset people don't like his new music at his concerts and only his classics. I really like some of Paul's new stuff, so I thought I'd help him along and try and get the word out about his most recent album...from last year. I never said I was in a hurry.

The first song of the album "The Werewolf" starts off as a nonsense song backed by Paul's now usual array of instruments. A variety of percussion and acoustic strings, helped along eventually by brass, gives the whole song a very primal feeling to it. The lyrics of the song take a realistic turn, however, when they turn on a dime to the nature of humanity. The greed and ignorance of the upper class, and the eventuality of humanity's self destruction are worked into the song easily, the beat and before mentioned feel of the song is never lost. A great opening song, that can either be digested for it's lyrics or enjoyed simply for the melody.

"Wristband" is a drastic turn from the both the instrumentation and tone. The song is simply the story of a musician who gets locked out of his venue, and the troubles he has trying to get in. I wouldn't be surprised if the first two verses were inspired by a similar event happening to Paul. We switch to a simpler array of a bass, drums, and trumpet for this song, which helps to put emphasis on all of Simon's lyrics. This is all until the third verse, when Paul turns to the issues the poorer children of the world have trying to be accepted at large. This comes off, after one has listened to the whole album, as a weak attempt to connect the song with the themes in the rest of the album. The same might be said for The Werewolf, only in that song the themes fit better and flow from the original topic easily, never thrown in haphazardly.

We get our first instrumental of the album with "The Clock," a simple string of notes played on a xylophone behind a clock's ticking. Nothing truly important to the album as a whole, but a good minute long break to help listeners find focus for what's coming next. In "Street Angel" we see the beginning of the album's overarching story. Much like "Wristband," it comes across more as an experience put to word. The titular street angel in the song comes off as a savant, as a child or young adult who fell through the cracks of society, spouting philosophies of life and his purpose here. The song is backed only by a simple arrangement of percussion and a capella sounds, leading listeners again to focus on the lyrics. The song ends implying the street angel has been taken to a hospital. The song works better as a part of a whole than a standalone, as we will see.

Which actually does not lead into "Stranger to Stranger." The track halts the narrative Paul had barely begun, to give us a dream-like song about the possibilities of love and happenstance. Maybe his intention was to create the feeling of a dream, as we transition from one scene of the story to the next. The song has a wonderfully done accompaniment of woodwinds and chimes creating a floating sense of relaxation, as the man himself very generously rambles about the nature of his relationship with someone. He asks, maybe the person or perhaps himself, if they would fall in love a second time if their meeting had been redone. If fate always meant for them to have the relationship they have, or if what they have is happenstance. It's a very emotionally grabbing piece I find myself putting on repeat for a few loops though before moving on.

Speaking of moving on, we need to get back to the loose plot of the album. "In A Parade" seems to take place in an emergency room, with a member of the staff reflecting on how sometimes the place is empty, but mostly it's packed. The tempo is drastically picked up in this song, helping add to the illusion of a rush or a fast-paced environment. It's a very fitting feel, helped by the fast drumbeats and the ambient sounds would find in a hospital setting, such as phones ringing and machines buzzing. The bridges in this song seem to be an imitation of a doctor reading the clipboard of a patient, listing that they have Schizophrenia, and are a street angel as an "occupation". The protagonist seems to hint that he was once, also, a child of the street, and still has residual issues because of this today.

Moving into another dream-like sequence, we get "Proof of Love." If "Stranger To Stranger" was a song taking place in the air, "Proof of Love" takes place on the arid banks of a dry river fitting as we'll see later). the acoustic guitar, drawn out string instruments, and bongos in the accompaniment serve to help the image, while Paul once again muses on love, this time seemingly in a more general and platonic sense. The lyrics come out more nonsensical than in "Stranger to Stranger," but the accompaniment is much more captivating here, helping keep the listener interested. After is the second and last instrumental of the album, "In The Garden of Edie." Twice as long as "The Clock," it's almost entirely a guitar solo, drawn out and slow. Not s great interlude for the whole album, but on it's own it is a nice enough piece.

"The Riverbank" is the capstone of the three part story. The song tells the story of a soldier's death. Not an active soldier, but a veteran. A mother's only son who commits suicide.

"Army dude
Only son
Nowhere to run
No one to turn to
He turns to the gun"

This tells the final necessary parts to the story. "The Street Angel" is probably some form of veteran, on the streets and suffering from a mental illness he either can't get help for or can't afford the help for. He was taken to the ER at some point, but probably checked himself out once he could. His story ends in suicide here, and the song tells the story of his mourners. The accompaniment  to this is similar to the rest of the album, but adding an electric guitar for punctuation. It was reminiscent of some of Paul's earlier albums, and the added guitar served to freshen the song up. It would have been a very good way to end the story, and the album

But that didn't end Stranger to Stranger. From the morbid and meaningful, we go to a surprisingly upbeat song in "Cool Papa Bell." All you need to know about the instrumentals is they used a tuba for some reason. The lyrics are almost sickeningly positive compared to the rest of the song. Even when it eventually twists to this almost scornful hate of others, the mood is always positive. Much like "Wristband," it sticks out in the album at large, and even on it's own I don't know if it would hold up. Maybe that's the point, and this and "The Werewolf" are supposed to somehow bookend the story. But I don't think it worked very well, personally.

We reach our final song, "The Insomniac's Lullaby," which gives us a 3/4 tempo while the lyrics go on to nicely reflect on the album at large. It incorporates both the reflective nature of songs like "Stranger to Stranger," and the story of "The Street Angel." An acoustic guitar and chimes act as the only backup for Paul singing, telling the story of a man who cannot sleep, only finding rest with the rising sun. It turns out to be a very good and appropriate ending to the album at large.

Does Paul Simon's new work truly hold up to his hits of the past? If the measure of success is to create the new pop single, the answer is no. However, the album as a whole if very well done. Many of the songs are worth listening to on their own, and the album can be enjoyed wholly together, making for a great experience for an hour. Paul Simon may be done making chart topping hits, but that doesn't mean he's done making quality music.

(This is my first attempt at reviewing anything music related. I apologize if some aspects of the review are confusing or don't make sense. The summary is, go listen to this album.)

Join us on Facebook by clicking HERE.

No comments:

Post a Comment