So Beautiful Or So What

Paul Simon

Hear Music, 2011

REVIEW BY: David Bowling


It has been about five years since Paul Simon has come calling with a new studio album. The good news is that So Beautiful Or So What is his best album since Graceland, although its style and sound is more in line with that album’s successor, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Rhythm Of The Saints.

Simon’s voice is always reassuring, and here he appears relaxed, as if he is sitting in his living room performing for a few friends. His poetic ability remains intact as he explores such themes as mortality, eternal life, and spirituality.

The album’s musical textures and rhythms are far removed from his Simon & Garfunkel days. He continues to incorporate African rhythms to support his lyrics and at times to run counterpoint to them. In fact, he has become extremely adept at layering various sounds until the instruments blend together into a united whole.

There are a number of very strong, creative tracks. The album opener, “Getting Ready For Christmas Day,” serves to set the tone for what will follow. Its lyrics are based on a 70-plus year old sermon by The Reverend J.M. Gates, a fire and brimstone, heaven and hell preacher. Simon modernizes his message, layering drums as the foundation, which enhances the overall sound.

The great Christian writer, C.S. Lewis, wrote how he considered hell would be an endless succession of red tape and administrative layers. ”The Afterlife” adapts those concepts to Simon’s views of heaven, complete with filling out forms and endless waiting.

The best track may be “Love Is Eternal Sacred Light.” In it, Simon admits there are no answers to life’s major questions, but ultimately that is okay. He even pokes some fun of his philosophical predicament.

Later this year, Paul Simon will turn 70, an age when the themes he explores here take on added personal importance. As such, with So Beautiful Or So What, he has produced a mature work that explores his life’s ongoing journey, doing so through music of depth and beauty.

Rating: A-

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Paul Simon...soon to be 70!!!
In my mind he'll always be the little guy hanging a fastball for Mickey Mantle to clobber in stickball.

And the fellow stuck on a deserted island w/ Victoria Jackson making coconut cups.

Oh yea, and I guess Paul Simon, to this day, is an under-appreciated American commodity. Good stuff...never to be duplicated.

© 2011 David Bowling and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Hear Music, and is used for informational purposes only.