Album Review – Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Paul Simon is one of my top three favorite songwriters – not to mention performers – ever. I haven’t yet written nearly enough about him but that long-overdue Simon and Garfunkel series (at least) will happen sometime later this year.

In June of 2016, Simon released his thirteenth studio album, Stranger to Stranger. To give you the quick “executive summary,” I like but don’t love it. After three listenings online, there’s nothing compelling me to feel that I need to run out and buy it. (I should note here that critical reviews of this album have been fairly positive. So if you’re a Simon fan you might want to check this CD out for yourself.)

That’s not to say there aren’t good songs – there are. Just not, for me, enough of ’em. And although Simon is utilizing the services of “Italian electronic artist Clap! Clap!,” I’m not blown away by the results.

I don’t review a whole lot of albums but on the occasion that I do, I like to give a sense of what the album sounds like, good or bad. In this song, “Street Angel,” Simon is kind of talk-singing it. It’s a kind of coy style he sometimes adopts that I’ve never really been crazy about:

Better I think is the song “Stranger to Stranger.” Classic Simon, a love song that is at the same time, bittersweet:

Stranger to stranger
If we met for the first time
This time
Could you imagine us
Falling in love again

Words and melody
So the old story goes
Fall from summer trees
When the wind blows

Before baseball was integrated in the United States in 1947 – roughly 80 years after it should have been – they used to have something called the Negro League. Apparently, there was a player named James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell who was an amazingly fast player.

I never heard of the guy but Simon – a big baseball fan – did and wrote a song about him. It’s fun to listen to Simon sing “Cool Papa Bell” if only to hear him use the word “motherfucker” in a song for, I think, the first time:

So, you know, not a bad album, not great by Simon standards. Maybe it would grow on me given enough time. There are some good songs that maybe I’d consider buying. But I don’t feel the need to add the entire album to my collection. And Simon isn’t really breaking any new ground here. Even though they’re new songs, I kinda feel like I’ve heard it all before. And better. 2.5 stars (out of 4).

9 thoughts on “Album Review – Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger

  1. “Italian electronic artist Clap! Clap!” did make me chuckle until I heard it. Blimey, what a mis-match of production and talent. Agree with your selections but that sound is almost too much, it buries the songs.

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  2. It does and to me, that’s of lesser concern than that I’m just not hearing anything from Simon I haven’t already heard in one form or another. He needs some inspiration and I’m not hearing it here. Been there, done that.

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  3. Now that you mention it, it does have a bit of his sound. Those guys have worked together before. Maybe Sting rubbed off on him. Plus the composition itself sounds like one of Sting’s jazzier tunes.

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  4. Yep. I’ve never been that keen on the ‘funky’ Paul Simon – preferred the folk singer. I like the arrangements and production on his later albums, though. There’s a certain levity that appeals to me.

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  5. For me the solo Simon I like (and can’t refrain from comparing to), are his early solo albums, then jump to (of course) Graceland, Rhythm of the Saints, some Capeman. But like a lot of artists of his generation, it’s been a while since I liked an album of his all the way through. That takes nothing away from his genius, however. Nothing left to prove.

    The album “I Still Do” by his contemporary Eric Clapton fares better I think, aiming for a certain overall sound and feel and hitting it.

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    1. I so much want to like it more. But apart from a handful of songs, it just didn’t happen. I’ve read about his craftsmanship. He used to live in NY across the hall from Lorne Michaels of Saturday Night Live. Michaels would always talk about how when he stopped by, Simon would be worrying about some lyric and be surrounded by little balled-up bits of paper on the floor. In search of the exact lyric, he sweats the details.

      Anyway, thanks for the link. I’ll definitely check out that podcast.

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