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Surprise

4.0 out of 5 stars 219 customer reviews

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Audio CD, May 9, 2006
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Among the most popular artists and greatest songwriters of our time, Paul Simon returns with his first album in six years and the album titled Surprise is exactly that. First, three songs were co-written with electronic music guru Brian Eno; second, the other songs are straightforward, wonderfully American pop. Surprise is a pleasant surprise for Simon fans.

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Since severing his epochal partnership with Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon's solo career been characterized by restless reinvention. But while it's easy to see such disparate, cross-cultural collaborations as Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints as Simon's quest for new creative partnerships, beneath them lies a more crucial willingness to continually challenge the very assumptions and craft of his own songwriting. Six years after his sublime, underappreciated You're the One Simon has pushed that sensibility into a rewarding, if equally unlikely, partnership with Brian Eno. Yet the former Roxy Music texturalist cum contemporary producer/sound conjurer supreme (aided by such stellar sidemen as Bill Frisell, Herbie Hancock and Steve Gadd) offers barely half the "surprises" here.

The playful "Sure Don't Feel Like Love" argues Simon can still beckon his more traditional pop muse at will. Yet some of his best work here turns as much on hypnotic, if no less politically pointed, quasi-spoken word pieces (like "Wartime Prayers" and the gripping, post 9/11 rumination "How Can You Live in the Northeast?") as traditional songcraft. Eno is credited with providing "Sonic Landscape" to Simon's production, but also co-wrote three tracks, infusing "Another Galaxy" with contrasting doses of bracing energy and ethereal elegance, while seasoning the more traditional folk musings of "Once Upon a Time There Was An Ocean" with infectious electro-funk rhythms. "Outrageous," their best full collaboration, suggests that while Eno and Simon may approach world music - and indeed most pop forms - from polar extremes, the common ground they find is truly elevated. In an era when many of his peers are content to craft mere artistic comebacks, Simon's re-emergence here is a bold, compelling step forward. --Jerry McCulley

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Product Details

  • Audio CD (May 9, 2006)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Warner Bros.
  • ASIN: B000F0UV1S
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (219 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,710 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
I received this album as a birthday gift - my first Paul Simon album since Graceland. That's obviously a span of many years (almost 20) and my musical tastes have since migrated to the more "modern" sounds of Arcade Fire, Ryan Adams, Zero 7, Audioslave, The Shins, etc. Perhaps an eclectic mix of artists, but all pioneers in the modern era of rock.

I popped in Suprise and was completely blown away. The master shines on this album of incredible stories intertwined within some of the best hooks I've heard in some time. Lyrically, this album is pure poetry. Examples:

==

A mother murmurs in twilight sleep

And draws her babies closer.

With hush-a-bies for sleepy eyes,

And kisses on the shoulder.

To drive away despair

She sends a wartime prayer.

==

It's a dead end job, and you gets tired of sittin'

And it's like a nicotine habit you're always thinking about quittin'

==

I could fill this review with meaningful lyrics from each tune - there isn't a bad song on the entire album.

Regardless of your age or musical leanings, I can't recommend this album highly enough. Good for mellow tunes while in the office, but don't miss the chance to crank this in your car or iPod. The musicans Simon surrounds himself with are the best in the business. Steve Gadd on drums? Nuff said.

One of the many beauties of art is that it lasts forever. At some point in the near or hopefully distant future, Paul Simon will be gone. We will all remember him for his innovative songwriting and harmonies with Mr. Garfunkel, but a new generation will hopefully bow down to him for the genius of Surprise.

ebhp
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Format: Audio CD
I have bought 38 CDs in 2006 (not all from Amazon!) and this is the first that I give five stars to. I have been a Paul Simon fan for a long time and being an admirer of his halcyon days with Art Garfunkel, I was, it is safe to say, very sceptical of the music (or more importantly the sound) that would come out of the collaboration with Brian Eno. Don't get me wrong here, Eno is a legend himself. His music, either through Roxy Music, or Bowie, or U2 are at the very forefront of dynamism and creativity. But Paul Simon?? The master of melancholy? The "poet laureate of wiseass New York" (Rolling Stone 2006)? Nah...

Well...how wrong I was.

This album sounds fabulous. The soundscapes created by Eno as a backdrop to Simon's voice and guitar strumming are both inventive and graceful. It does not have the edginess of a Peter Gabriel or U2 and is seemingly just right. Simon's voice sounds marvellous and just having seen Bob Dylan in New Orleans and Neil Young on TV, I am thankful that at least one musical pioneer has survived vocally. Some of the falsettos he breaks into through the course of this album are just wonderful.

At the end of the day though, for me, Simon is defined not by the background music or the hummability of the overall album or the other peripheral characteristics but by the WORDS he writes. He is the best lyricist in modern music and while other legends such as Neil Young have gone all out on albums such as "Ohio" and "Living with War", Simon has always been more subtle. "Surprise" is NO different.

"Wartime Prayers" will be talked about for a few years to come as a truly defining song in modern music. Why? Because, unlike few other songs before it, it has combined sentiment, with fear, with anger and with sadness.
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Format: Audio CD
This collaboration between Simon and Eno may not be as revolutionary as, say, "Graceland," but it still ranks up there among Simon's best work in my book.

Why? Contrast. Simon is one of the most convincingly human lyricist/songwriters I can think of.

It's not that he's thinking small. Here he tackles the stark realities of living in politically polarized and youth-obsessed America, a country at war where all the good things in life seem to get blurred.

But he just has a very human touch, focusing right in on flowers sitting on a windowsill rather than going crazy thinking about being old. At one point he even sings that he's "an ordinary player in the key of C," underscoring that he's not going out for bombast here. What you hear is what you get, tuneful melodies and lucid lyrics delivered in that slightly sly Simon way.

Then contrast that with the alternation blips and drones contained within Eno's "soundscape," and the humane man comes into contrast in 3D. Suddenly there's a person singing out within a confusing electronic forest -- a ghost in the machine.

It's not as spellbinding as "Graceland" or "Rhythm of the Saints," but it is a very well-thought out and heart-warming record that's worth much more than the vast majority of sludge marketed as pop music these days.

B+
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Format: Audio CD
This album is Paul Simon's first in the last six years, and although it may not win him many new fans, his existing fan base will be pleased to find out that the man can still write lyrics with the best of them.

As usual, the songs can be compared to short stories, told in his unique style with minimal backing arrangements, just there to perfectly frame the storyteller's art.

"How Can You Live in the Northeast" asks simple questions about the meaning of life, while "Everything About It Is a Love Song" is an introspective on a life past. "Outrageous" is a rant about bothersome things, while "Sure Don't Feel Like Love" is more political. "Beautiful" is a track that takes you back to the old Simon & Garfunkel days, as does "Once Upon a Time There Was an Ocean", two of the better songs on the album. The excellent "Father and Daughter" brings the album to a close with a moving tribute to the love that a man reserves for that special little girl in his life.

"There could never be a father who loved his daughter more than I love you"

And so it goes, eleven tracks from the master, each longer than 3 minutes, about love, war, politics, and whatever else he chooses. A great album for any Simon fan.

Amanda Richards, May 10, 2006
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