Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Great Albums: Simon and Garfunkel's Bookends

Artist: Simon &Garfunkel

Album: Bookends

Release date: 1968

Original label: Columbia

Appears in: The Mojo Collection, among other 'ultimate' music companions.

Summary: Paul Simon is prematurely nostalgic for time to come.

Merits: Despite the stab at something thematic on the LPs first side, this was perhaps the most straightforward and engaging of S&G five LPs. Simon kept his observations simple and his tendency for pedantry in check and Garfunkel went light on that all-too-precious choirboy voice he frequently deployed. First side combines state of the union, or is that disunion given the tenor of the times, in America, in relationships and spans a 'what's wrong with the kids today' plea to old age and death. Side two is a collection of songs that don't hang together quite so well, but, individually, they are alternately charming, probing or rocking.

Highlights: The haunted narrator of the spectral, yet soaring America who goes in search of something greater than himself only to find he's one of many anonymous questing souls. Though very much a 60s hippie 'find yourself' song, it's truly timeless. Hazy Shade of Winter is a lament for lost time and possibilities with a ringing hook and rock edge that reminds me of Oh Pretty Woman. And Overs is a short and bittersweet 'can't quit you' with very clever lyrics. Plus, There's the driving Mrs. Robinson. Coo-coo-ca-choo, indeed, and more sympathetic to the character than the movie it came from.

Demerits: For me, it's Garfunkel's Voices of Old People, a collage of recordings of old people made in New York and Los Angeles that is interesting, but interrupts the assured flow of Simon's songs.

Alternate selection: My reservations about Simon's songwriting, particularly in the context of S&G, and Garfunkel's vocals make this the only S&G album I own. Bridge Over Troubled Water has always seemed a little too precious to me, ditto their earliest work, but I do have a soft spot for Sounds of Silence, mainly because my parents owned it. Highlights of that album are the title song, I Am A Rock, Richard Corey, April Come She Will and The Leaves That Are Green. (At least, I think that's the title.)

FYI: The back half of the album doesn't follow on the Bookends concept because Paul didn't have enough related material ready for the album's deadline. Several had already appeared on singles.

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