So Beautiful Or So What
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So Beautiful Or So What
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2011 album from the Grammy-winning, multi-million selling veteran singer/songwriter. Produced by Phil Ramone and Paul Simon, with liner notes written by Elvis Costello, So Beautiful or So What is one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year. Rolling Stone magazine recently declared it, "His best since Graceland," and National Public Radio affirmed, "...his new music balances great poetry and pop. Paul Simon is a national treasure." In their current issue, Filter Magazine calls the new album, "...a new masterpiece from the Picasso of music."
Digital Booklet: So Beautiful Or So What
Digital Booklet: So Beautiful Or So What
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Top customer reviews
The album is getting a little dated: "Getting Ready for Christmas Day" references American war efforts in the Middle Eastern region. "Questions for the Angels" namechecks Jay-Z's line of kids' clothes. One wonders if people would think Simon and Garfunkel's "America" is as fresh-sounding as it is today if Simon referenced a passerby in an Oleg Cassini dress.
On the other hand, Simon has an ear for unusual musical accompaniments and arrangements that seem timeless. Clips of Reverend J. M. Gates's voice and the call-and-response of his congregation add a cadence to "Getting Ready for Christmas Day" that settles the somewhat-jumpy guitar track. Tablas were just the right instruments to use on "Dazzling Blue". And though the instrumentation is more standard on the title track, the driving guitar riff seems vaguely late-50s-early-60s-ish but not dated.
The lyrics are what I have come to expect of Simon: telling a story almost informally while letting the details of those lyrics paint the pictures (the muse about the Pearly Gates being some kind of cosmic Customs inspection line, the idea of God and Jesus Christ visiting earth but departing quickly because they have work to do and they want to avoid the noisy mob that would materialize if it was known they were there). The lyrics rarely provide a pure yes-or-no statement; they're better at jogging the listener to consider the situation themselves.
This album reminds me very much of "Graceland" in a way that "The Rhythm of the Saints" and "You're the One" just do not. I just happen to prefer this version of Paul Simon, I guess. Recommended.
Simon's last recording. Produced by the legendary
Brian Eno, "Surprise" was a brilliant collaboration
that merged Eno's world of electronics and sonic
experimentation with Simon's songwriting in much
the same way that he had previously grafted his
music with African and South American rhythms
or southern gospel music. But with perhaps the
exception of the title track, the songs on "Surprise"
seemed somewhat cold, distant, and detached.
Which may have been why it didn't connect in a
bigger way with the public.
On the contrary, the music on the new "So
Beautiful Or So What" invites the listener in, is
warm and embracing, and conveys a casual and
simple nature to the performances that connect
back to Simon's first "Paul Simon" solo album
from 1972. On that initial solo outing Simon
rejected the grandiose majestic productions of the
later Simon and Garfunkel LPs for a much more
intimate, and rhythmic approach that yielded two
hit singles and solidified his confidence and
direction for a solo career.
Before the release of this new album, Simon
himself compared the coming release with his first
solo LP but much of the recent press comparisons
have been with his breakthrough "Graceland"
album. I assume that this is because of the new
album's emphasis on rhythms and percussion.
Which is understandable as Simon uses almost
every instrument in a percussive way on the new
album. Vibrato-laden electric guitars, pulsating
bass lines, and even the use of a flute, all work
together to propel the music forward in washes of
near hypnotic rhythmic energy.
But actually, Simon has been a "groove" oriented
songwriter since the days of Cecilia on "Bridge
Over Troubled Water" and although some of the
electric guitar figures reflect his "Graceland" era,
the songs on "So Beautiful Or So What" seem far
more melody based than the songs on either
"Graceland" or "The Rhythm of the Saints".
Whereas the earlier African and South American
songs seemed to begin with rhythms from which
the song structures were crafted, the new album
feels like the songs came first and were then set
within rhythmic frames which come together to
form a wonderfully loose collection where the
songs seem to float casually in and out of
consciousness as they drift easily from one to
Simon's brilliant guitar playing has often been
overshadowed by his stature as a songwriter and
on the new album he really shines on guitar.
There is a wonderful minute and a half long solo
guitar instrumental called "Amulet" and his own
guitar playing is the foundation for all of the
songs on the album. Much like it was on his
There is also an almost traditional "blues" like
quality to the album with the sparse
instrumentation and casual approach and the
songs have a very "primitive" nature to them like
accidental Americana "folk art" cast off on the
side of some mythic delta highway. Not that the
songs actually have a traditional blues structure
or even instrumentation. But they do have a
spirit to them that feels similar to the joyously
spiritual nature of the best traditional blues.
Lyrically the songs connect in much the same
way as the subject matters explored fit perfectly
within each musical painting with many literal
connections to black America whether it be from
the use of samples of the sermons from 1941 of
Reverend J. M. Gates in the opening "Getting
Ready For Christmas Day" and the Golden Gate
Jubilee Quartet on "Love and Blessings" to the
lead character crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on
"Questions For The Angels". The title track
perhaps best reflects this "blues" inspiration with
again primitive guitar figures repeating and
supporting an uplifting lyric that like the rest of
the album moves from darker images toward a
spiritual redemption that Simon seems to have
been chasing his entire life.
Highly recommended, "So Beautiful Or So
What" has Paul Simon coming full circle in his
songwriting. This could be his "Bringing it all
Back Home" album. And he's brought back
everything he's learned along the way with him.
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