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Music Review: Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What

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There are things I want to write and say about Paul Simon’s new album, So Beautiful or So What. Words that I want to pour forth from my fingertips that would tell you of the singular thrill I felt when I first sat down and listened to the album from start to finish. Or even the thrill I felt as I just finished what must be my 40th full listen.

My words, though, are not good enough to do the job. Instead, they are barely good enough to explain to me why they could not do so.

In clumsy layman words, So Beautiful or So What is a gorgeous record. Lush and sparse all at the same time, it is perhaps the album I dreamt Simon would make as I listened to all of his older work — both solo and of his partnership with Art Garfunkel — and wondered what it would be like were he truly in the prime of his career during these modern times. What would such an album sound like? Could such an album exist?

Paul SimonAre we at a moment in time where artists are even trying hard to create albums any more? Or do they just make records that have enough singles to sell digitally online, as physical media sales plummet year after year?

Well, Paul Simon was trying, and has succeeded.

With the soft glide of a sampled and digitally slowed down steam engine that tumbles into the funky groove of its first song, “Getting Ready for Christmas Day,” the latest album from Paul Simon, So Beautiful or So What opens the door wide on what turns out to be one of the more infectious and enjoyable albums to come out in ages, no matter the artist.

From that point until the fade out on the end of the title track that ends this album, there are truly no weak songs on it. Of course, just as particular passages will stand out and truly resonate when enjoying a complete novel, there are songs which have truly wormed their way into my consciousness. I find myself humming them to myself constantly.

“The Afterlife,” for instance, just rides this wonderfully funky beat as it offers a glimpse of what happens to us after we die, if what happens is that our consciousness upon first coming into contact with God can only remember a fragment of earthly concerns that amounts to nothing more (or less) than lyric fragments of a song long loved and remembered.

Other favorites? “Dazzling Blue,” “Rewrite,” “Love and Hard Times,” the title track, and so forth. Actually, it’s unfair for me to just single these out, as I am realizing that there aren’t any songs I do not love in this collection.

With So Beautiful or So What, Paul Simon has crafted one of the better albums of his career, and I am grateful that he chose to do so at a point in my own life where I am old enough to appreciate it. All I can say other than that is that you should own this album. Now.

Have you gone to the store yet? Go ahead. I’ll wait…

Note: The version reviewed is the standard version. There is a deluxe version which includes a DVD featuring videos of the first two tracks on the album, as well as a live audio track of the title track.

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About Michael Jones

  • Barbara L. Samuelson

    Bravo! I feel so much the same about this album.

    Truly amazed with his ease in making his albums an entire masterpiece. He does not try to make one hit to sell it… he makes it all fit like poetry as it gently drifts into your emotions of love, smiles and joy.

    There is no way for me to count how many times I have listened to this Album since April 12th. Truth be told I even listened to it several times in a row… never really done that to too many albums ever. But, I will tell you the tunes are catchy and they have touched something in my very soul.

    Over the years I have loved various songs of his, yet Never really sat and listened to any of his albums as a complete piece until now. For everyone I get I am constantly aware that not only I, but many, have never given this man the credit he deserves as a genius/Musician/Artist.

    His music is as relevant to this era. In fact, I feel all his albums have relevance to all eras. Why? Because it is about life… His life… Our lives… they seem to fit in many areas of my life. Feels like he knows your very soul sometimes.

    I recommend this to everyone. Turn it on… close your eyes… Let the experience begin.

  • The lost art of song craftsmanship is brilliantly displayed once again for this century of songwriters to take careful note of.

  • horse-of-a-different-color

    I so love Afterlife… what a great view of heaven!

  • Gary Engler

    Nice review, right up until “Have you gone to the store yet?…”
    What store? 🙂 No one under 40 (30?) would think about going to a store to “buy music”. I too, am thankful to be old enough and at a point in my life when I can truly appreciate this collection of songs.

    Funny – the song I liked least upon hearing it initially is now my favorite song on the disc – by far. Love In Hard Times. The harmonic structure to this song is so remarkably sublime. And the subject matter – which arcs from God’s disappointment in man (“these people are slobs here”), to the ongoing majesty of creation, to Love, to the singer’s finding peace and grace through the touch of his lover’s hand. Frankly, I find it hard to listen to this song without tearing up.

    There is artistry in the creation of songs which seem to be pulled out of the air, and casually effortless. The reality, of course, is that they are not. Simon was a most worthy recipient of the Gershwin prize. I have been privileged to grow older with him as he matured as a songwriter.

    I never worry; why should I? It’s all gonna fade…

  • Gillian

    I haven’t heard the album yet. I heard a mutter of bad reviews when it came out, so I never even listened to the demo snippets. I will now — what a breathless, worshipful review! And tgat’s no criticism — I believe in raving when conviction calls for it, always. Buf I also wanted to leave a review of Gary Engler’s comment, actually! 😀 A wonderful response, and a spectacularly ditting use of the last-line quotation. Kudos to Michael, Paul and Gary.

    OK, now I’ve got a music store (online) to get to. 😉

  • Gillian

    *spectacularly FITTING, not ditting! &etc. 😉
    (The “preview comment” button did not work, brought me to a blank page, so the typos got by me…)