CD Reviews: Simon gives delivers a pleasant ‘Surprise’ Sunday, May 7, 2006
Paul Simon (Warner Bros.)
“Surprise” is Paul Simon’s headphone album, his “Dark Side of the Moon.” Collaborating with ambient music master Brian Eno opens up Simon’s music to textures and tones heretofore unheard in his music.
For the most part, the collaboration works. On the first track, “How Can You Live in the Northeast?” Simon’s vocals are remarkably strong, his lyrics almost pleading for unity in a divided world. But what’s most striking is Eno’s fabled touch, the undercurrent of noise and notes and other sounds that are present in what could have been a straightforward pop song. Such an approach calls for restraint, and when it works — as in the effervescent “Outrageous,” “Beautiful” and “Sure Don’t Feel Like Love” — there’s a tangible sense of exhilaration, even joy.
Occasionally, Eno’s treatments distract from the music. “Father and Daughter” is one of Simon’s brightest, most optimistic tunes but is marred by the some otherworldly sound effects and backing vocals. And “I Don’t Believe” just drones, with the lightness of Simon’s melody — and some wonderful acoustic guitar — getting lost in the mix.
For the most part, however, “Surprise” is Simon’s best work since “Graceland.”