Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger Review

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One of the most prolific songwriters of all time is back and at the age of 74 has crafted a thirteenth album called Stranger To Stranger. That man is Paul Simon and the legend New Yorker has talked of forming a ‘genre bending’ album of both new and familiar sounds. One constant in this, will be the relaxed and casual delivery of some eccentric and telling lyrics. Whatever the case with this album it can only add to the stature of the man and with the tragedy of fellow musical legends passing, it is a big boost to have a musical great still creating music for us all.

‘Wristband’ is quite simply a wonderful track. The song has unrelenting rhythm and energy through rapid percussion and handclaps and beyond that there isn’t a whole lot else other than a simple bass line. At the conclusion, he brings in trumpets to escalate the energy further. As well as this, are Paul’s vocals which are as calm, yet steadfast as they’ve ever been. The message behind the song matches the energy. He recalls being locked out of his own gig as he didn’t have a wristband and likens it to exclusivity and privilege in society before envisaging a social revolution. He commentates on American society in the same was as Kendrick Lamar, just through a highly relatable metaphor. ‘Werewolf’ is a folk-rock track with a lack of musical exclusiveness as it embraces many more contrary elements from the shuffling percussion to the deep-rooted and resonant organs. Simon rolls off his politically charged lyrics and social commentary through his relaxed and sarcastically tinged vocals. The track gradually builds to a peak with added instrumentation and raised tones. Another brilliantly arranged and thought provoking track delivered effortlessly. ‘Cool Papa Bell’ is a song that pays tribute to the legendary baseball player of the same name, but in the track he asks questions the use of the word ‘motherfucker’ and asks questions of society as a whole. He delivers those lyrics with slick wit and style around the light, feathered acoustic rhythms around him. Though not as punchy as ‘Wristband’, it shows Simon mixing up song structures and melodies in a more familiar environment.

‘The Riverbank’ is a slick riff oriantated track and the crisp guitar work is made the most prominent piece of the song with shuffling percussion behind it. In the song, Simon laments war and its ‘poisonous’ effect which ends with a mother with a folded American flag. The song expands out from its tight arrangement with faded strings to end a simple track with another unflinching narrative. The title track mixes whirring guitars echoed and drawn out with clean acoustic sounds and percussion layered on top of it. Paul’s vocal is at the forefront of the track and has a subtle echo to it. He leads the song to each transition including a jazz interlude that accentuates this beautiful, swooning track, but a tense and focused song too. ‘Proof of Love’ features rotating acoustics and echoed percussion. From this come angular and delicately distorted lead riffs that ominously rise high above the other sounds. Simon becomes perhaps more a philosopher than narrator on this track as he guides the lulling sounds easily. Other tracks such as ‘Street Angels’ feature instrumental quirks such as    the pitched shifted samples that intercept the percussion of the song. Each track features Paul Simon firing away each lyric in smooth and effortless tones. The album is undoubtedly his best for some time and is a subtle reminder of the sheer talent he has in all areas. You’ll be hard pressed to find an album quite like this in 2016.

Paul Simon – Stranger To Stranger = 9/10

 

Owen Riddle

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