CD Review of Surprise by Paul Simon

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starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Warner Bros.
Released: 2006
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With a voice as instantly recognizable as that of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteeen or Tom Petty, Paul Simon has become part of the American musical landscape not only with his voice, but with his timeless songbook, along with the courage to experiment and expand his musical boundaries. His latest effort, aptly titled Surprise because it’s pretty much a side of Simon we haven’t really seen before, is a collaboration with producer Brian Eno, who has worked with the likes of U2, the Talking Heads and Roxy Music. If you think that kind of pairing might bring out an art rock side of Simon, you’re absolutely correct. The question remains, though, whether Surprise will surprise us all by standing the test of time.

“How Can You Live in the Northeast?” sets the tone for the musical experimentation evident on the record, and is lyrically about the kind of fear we all live in post-9/11 and post-Katrina. “Everything About It Is a Love Song” is a little more accessible melodically – and in addition to some production wizardry by Eno that brings the song to life, there is something hypnotic about this song that draws the listener in. “Outrageous,” with its ultra-catchy refrain of “Who’s gonna love you when your looks are gone?”is easily the most memorable track.

Tracks like “Beautiful” and “I Believe” are decent but lean way too much to the bizarre. Even the most loyal Simon fans are going to be falling asleep at this point, but they will soon be revived by the upbeat “Once Upon a Time There Was an Ocean” or by the previously released “Father & Daughter.” The latter, originally released on the “Wild Thornberrys” soundtrack, is the only song on here that has the familiar melodic genius that Simon has become known for.

Anyone who knows anything about music has to respect the musical and lyrical depth of Paul Simon, and with a voice as pure and true as any out there, he’s not going away anytime soon. In addition, anyone who fancies the kind of art rock that has made a living for bands like Radiohead is going to find something to like on Surprise. For those of you who have followed this icon’s career from the early days with Art Garfunkel through the beauty of Graceland until now, only time and record sales will tell.

~Mike Farley