XVIII. Thoughts On SURPRISE by Paul Simon.

1. This is the best album he’s made since STILL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS, an album that came out in 1975. He should have called it STILL GREAT AFTER ALL THESE YEARS.

2. In what might initially seem a strange choice of collaborator, Brian Eno is credited with “sonic landscaping.” Subtly framing each song here with his unique sense of texture and tiny detail, Eno has for whatever reason re-invigorated Paul Simon, who has not sounded this juiced or invested since GRACELAND twenty years ago.

3. Six years of living and loving have come and gone since his last album, YOU’RE THE ONE, and this has clearly been vital for Simon’s writing. He’s been hard at work and it has paid off handsomely. Every song on this album makes at least one incisive point about the human condition, revealing as much poetic wisdom as I have ever heard in something as supposedly trivial and meaningless as “pop music.” Here are some of them:

A. The earth is blue and everything about it is a love song.

B. You cannot walk with the holy if you’re just a halfway decent man.

C. Who will love when your looks are gone? God will.

D. A teardrop consists of electrolytes and salt. The chemistry of crying is not concerned with blame or fault.

E. The universe loves a drama.

F. Weak as the winter sun, we enter life on earth. Names and religion come just after date of birth.

G. It’s a blessing to wash your face in the summer solstice rain.

H. I don’t believe we were born to be sheep in a flock to pantomime prayers with the hands of a clock.

4. The man’s voice, medicinal in quality, gentle as the breeze of spring, is better and truer than it has been since his ‘70’s heyday. It is a close cousin in tone and phrasing to the voice of his first solo album, PAUL SIMON, except he’s sixty-plus instead of thirty-plus. Not much difference otherwise, and this is a wonderful thing. An old friend, indeed. Few better, in fact. And while the only thing missing here might be the pristine tenor of “old friend” Art Garfunkel, there is a new voice lending harmony to the sublime tear-jerker that is “Father and Daughter.” I would imagine it is his daughter, and it’s something to hear, I can tell you that.

5. Aside from Dylan’s LOVE AND THEFT, nobody else in Rock Music has made an album this good this far along in their career.

6. The music, melodic, soft and tempered, powered sweetly by Simon’s fabulous acoustic and electric guitar playing, is of one mood, one piece, and it wraps around the artist in understated support, sounding both modern and familiar. Especially empathetic is the drumming throughout of master Steve Gadd and the soulful piano accompaniment of Herbie Hancock on the beautiful “Wartime Prayers.” Eno is there and not there, like magic, a musical mirror for the auteur, a creative soul mate who has shown up late in the game and helped harvest a new renaissance.

7. If one were a pessimist or in a bad mood, one could criticize the pace and dynamics of this album as “one-dimensional” or even boring. I must be an optimist.


As sure as one and one is two,
There could never be a father who loved his daughter more than I love you.