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A Worthy Comeback

CD Review: Paul Simon's You're the One

by Mark D. Johnson
January 4, 2001

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A Worthy Comeback_Mark D. Johnson-CD Review: Paul Simon's <i>You're the One</i> It must be hard to be an aging rock star in the ever-changing world of popular music. A lot is expected of them with each new album as they try to maintain the level of creativity that made them household names decades ago. To recapture that glory and mass respect is a daunting task, and more often than not, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, and Elton John, to name a few, have failed to do that in recent years.

Paul Simon’s record of reinventing himself is relatively good. His African-flavored Graceland album in 1986 was a bona fide smash hit, and the Brazilian follow-up, Rhythm of the Saints, fared almost as well. Then came his Broadway show debut, Capeman in the late nineties, and it failed miserably (though it’s getting a second chance now in London). His response to that flop, a new CD called You’re the One, is a return to his vintage 1970’s form, and it is precisely that which has resulted in mixed reaction among his fans, who had become accustomed to Simon’s forays into new styles. For some, he’s back to his strongest sound, for others, he has regressed to the all-too-familiar. I’m inclined to side with the former group.

Musically, it’s true that You’re the One offers little new. Nevertheless, these are, overall, eleven good songs, some of which match the best of Simon’s career. Several of the tunes, such as “Darling Lorraine,” the best of this batch, feature two or three shifts in rhythm and style that make for an interesting listen. The time changes in “Hurricane Eye” (You may have seen him perform this one on “Saturday Night Live”) are impressive, though the transition from the 4/4 section to 6/4 strikes me as unnatural every time. The switch back to 4/4 and going in and out of 7/4 time is well done. The other standout tracks are “Look at That,” “Senorita With a Necklace of Tears,” and “Quiet.”

I do have a problem with the placement of some of these songs in the track sequence, however. “That’s Where I Belong” is a sleepy opener, kind of a personal pet peeve of mine. The whimsical and catchy “Old” is immediately followed by the title track at the exact same tempo and a very similar rhythm. While both songs are respectable, I don’t understand that decision. Equally perplexing, is making the beat for “You’re the One” almost exactly the same as his 1977 hit “Late in the Evening.” But he got it right in ending the album with the ethereal and trance-inducing “Quiet.” It is difficult to pull off a mellow finale, but this is a very effective move. Given Simon’s stature as a great lyricist, one comes away from “Quiet” feeling wiser.

Lyrically, I would say that he’s still got it, though I can’t claim to understand all of his musings. Perhaps, like the constable in Much Ado About Nothing, Paul Simon is “too cunning to be understood.” I don’t know what to make of “The Teacher,” for example, but I have difficulty deciphering poetry in general. Still, Simon’s lyrics can be appreciated for their striking imagery and artful word choice. The meaning is something to be pondered, but not necessarily grasped. “Pigs, Sheep and Wolves” seems to be an indictment of capital punishment (and some might say George W. Bush, but I think that is wishful thinking), and is relatively clever and humorous, but I do not like the vocal styling where he “speaks on tone,” reminiscent of Rex Harrison’s “singing” in My Fair Lady. He falls into this technique a few places on this album, but the most annoying example is on “Pigs.”

Paul Simon is not the only one growing older here, and perhaps I’m showing my age when I say that the hits of the seventies and eighties were far better than what tops the charts now. Here we have another helping of good, thoughtful tunes from one of the best in the business. How can we complain about that? Apparently I’m not the only one to sing its praises: “You’re the One” just received a Grammy nomination for “Album of the Year” (2000). Unfortunately for Paul Simon, the Grammy Awards rarely reward good musicianship and talent with the top prize.

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