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?
Are 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.