Album of the Week: Paul Simon's Stranger to Stranger – profound and searching

Thu, May 26, 2016, 16:00

   
 

Album:
Stranger to Stranger

Artist:
Paul Simon

Label:
Concord

Genre:
Singer / Songwriter

Fifty years seems a long time but really is just a blink. In 1966, Paul Simon and his then junior partner Art Garfunkel were rising stars with the hastily assembled Sounds of Silence and the more considered Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme albums bookending a year of amazing music that included one of rock’s landmarks, Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde.

Fast forward and Dylan is trawling through the Great American Songbook while Simon continues to push musical boundaries, exploring the unease, anxieties and questions, personal and social, that seep through our divided universe and our own lives. I think it fair to say that in 1966 Leicester City-like odds would have been offered on such an outcome.

But then, Simon always has been something of a contrarian, albeit soft-spoken, with that pure choirboy voice informed by a whip-smart poetic flourish. And this slightly abrasive, characteristically New Yorker side has become more pronounced in his grey years.

In 2014 he and his wife, singer Edie Brickell, were arrested after a row. It was a minor infraction but this sense of edginess, along with his trademark elegant and often beautiful rendering of profound and searching inquiry into the ways of the world and the plays of the heart, makes his late-career work all the more interesting.

Now 74, he shares his fears about life and after through music, the “tongue I speak”, as he states on Proof of Love, one of the 11 tracks on this richly rewarding album. He also snarls his impatience with inequality, a world divided between those who have and those who don’t on the percussive and irresistible Wristband: “If you don’t have a wristband, you don’t get through the door . . .”

Elsewhere, the African rhythms that lit up his mid-career slip back into focus for Cool Papa Bell, a song honouring an African-American baseball legend, and The Werewolf, an urbane, jazzy exploration. There is a simmering musical backdrop for the title track, which addresses the struggles in love and in his music. He closes with Insomniac’s Lullaby, a delicate, probing ballad (“Oh Lord, don’t keep me up all night with questions I can’t understand”) that links his past to the present: a master still at work. paulsimon.com