Paul Simon: The Essential Paul Simon

Andrew Gilstrap

The early stuff we all know about. The Essential Paul Simon makes an argument for checking in after Graceland.

Paul Simon

The Essential Paul Simon

Label: Warner Brothers
US Release Date: 2007-06-26
UK Release Date: 2007-06-26

There are plenty of Paul Simon collections out there -- more than there are original Paul Simon records, in fact -- and they're especially useful if you're looking for coverage of his earlier golden years. You know the ones, the years that produced songs like "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover", "Slip Slidin' Away", "Late in the Evening", and "Still Crazy After All These Years". Despite that stellar track record, it wasn't until 1986 that Simon's biggest album came in the form of Graceland. After that, though, everyone seemed to forget who he was. The audience that fell in love with the South African mbaqanga music of Graceland didn't seem willing to follow him to South America for The Rhythm of the Saints. Simon's four records since Graceland have varied in quality (with 2006's Brian Eno-assisted Surprise being especially strong), but each contained some good songs.

The purpose of The Essential Paul Simon seems to be to cast a new light on those recent tracks. The efficient, filler-free first disc contains the pre-Graceland hits we all know, although not in strictly chronological order (in fact, a thoughtful bit of sequencing places the zydeco of Graceland's "That Was Your Mother" beside There Goes Rhymin' Simon's "Take Me to the Mardi Gras").

Disc Two starts with Graceland (which contributes an impressive six tracks), and then borrows pretty evenly from Simon's output afterwards. "The Obvious Child", naturally, represents The Rhythm of the Saints, as its vibrant blend of Simon songwriting and Brazilian percussion made Rhythm initially sound like the follow-up to Graceland that everyone was waiting for. Essential's inclusion of "Born at the Right Time", "The Cool, Cool River", and "Spirit Voices" make the argument that Rhythm of the Saints possessed a more relaxed vibe than "The Obvious Child" led people to believe. Essential also seeks some redemption for Songs from the Capeman, Simon's musical about the life of Salvador Agron. The three songs found here are quite good, but their musical roots do show, making for some awkward moments ("Adios Hermanos", in particular feels like it has the stage blocking built right in as Simon and an uncredited female voice trade stanzas). You're the One's "Darling Lorraine" and "Hurricane Eye" are fine lyrically, but something in their arrangements makes them feel like Simon is coasting on the nimble picking style he adopted later in his career. The tracks from Surprise sound like Simon might have been rejuvenated by his time with Brian Eno, although you have to think that, on his own, Simon would never have chosen missteps like the aggressive street-funk vibe of "Outrageous" or an especially gospel-drenched reading of the word "prayer" in "Wartime Prayers".

Overall, The Essential Paul Simon doesn't overturn the conventional wisdom that Simon's recent output falls short of Graceland and everything that came before. Whatever the X-factor that defined Simon's hits, the newer songs seldom contain that effortless, timeless feel. However, Disc 2 does show that -- some perceived tiredness on You're the One aside -- Simon hasn't quit pushing himself. For anything else you might say about it, Songs from the Capeman was certainly ambitious. Ultimately, The second disc serves as an argument to revisit The Rhythm of the Saints and Surprise; on the flip side, it perhaps holds all you need to keep from Capeman and You're the One.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

Following his excellent debut record Communion, Rabit further explores the most devastating aspects of its sound in his sophomore opus Les Fleurs du Mal.

Back in 2015 Rabit was unleashing Communion in the experimental electronic scene. Combining extreme avant-garde motifs with an industrial perspective on top of the grime sharpness, Eric C. Burton released one of the most interesting records of that year. Blurring lines between genres, displaying an aptitude for taking things to the edge and the fact that Burton was not afraid to embrace the chaos of his music made Communion such an enticing listen, and in turn set Rabit to be a "not to be missed" artist.

Keep reading... Show less

Composer Michael Vincent Waller just keeps on writing, even when trying to settle on instrument arrangements.

When New York composer Michael Vincent Waller began recording his works, he turned to his solo piano works. He hit us the following year with a double album full of a variety of chamber music arrangements. With Trajectories, Waller walks it back to solo piano and piano/cello duets. The ensemble format may have shrunk from The South Shore, but the scope of Michael Vincent Waller's work certainly hasn't. Trajectories is nearly 77 minutes in length and uses each bar of music for full minimal effect.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.