Paul Simon – So Beautiful Or So What
I haven’t been quite this excited for an album release in a long while. Paul Simon is one of my all-time favorite artists, and after hearing the first two singles from So Beautiful Or So What, I knew this collection of songs was going to be special.
The album starts off with those two singles… “Getting Ready For Christmas Day” which is complete with samples from a 1941 sermon of the same title by Reverend J.M. Gates, and “The Afterlife” which playfully explores the nature of our pace of living and how that may affect life after death. Both of these songs have a movement to them that we aren’t used to hearing from Simon’s music…he says he experimented with certain sounds throughout this album and when it worked, it was ‘fresh’. “Dazzling Blue” is the third track and it’s by far my favorite. Even after listening to this song dozens of times, it still takes my breath away. Tabla, clay pot, and Indian vocal syllables of percussion lay down the foundation while guitar, fiddle, and vocal harmonies make this song soar. The words have a very deep impression on me… and I hope to one day include this song in my wedding ceremony.
The album then takes a fun, light turn with “Rewrite”, which touches upon the difficulties of writing in a playful manner. “Love and Hard Times” is the first tender ballad on the album, and one of many tracks that mention God. Simon says he’s not sure exactly why he keeps writing about God since he doesn’t consider himself a very religious person. The pace is picked right back up again with track #6, “Love Is Eternal Sacred Light”, and then it slows down once more with the instrumental interlude, “Amulet” and “Questions For The Angels”, which has words that really open up the mind and heart. Simon uses excerpts from a 1938 recording of “Golden Gate Gospel Train” to round off the tune, “Love & Blessings” and he finishes the album off with the title track. “So Beautiful Or So What” has a driving guitar hook, a persistent beat, and words that leave you with a strong impression.
I think Elvis Costello says it perfectly in the introduction he wrote for this album’s liner notes… “It’s a lot to add to what you’ve done when those songs are titles anyone could name but Paul’s greatest songs will find worthy, easy company here.”