Paul Simon’s Smile

Paul Simon’s career has been prolific, with his classic association with Art Garfunkel, his great early solo career (including the great record “Still Crazy After All These Years”), and his ability to infuse the style he cultivated for more than thirty years into African and Brazilian music. However, his last two records, “You’re the One” (2000) and his most recent release, “Smile” (2006), have been sub par attempts to relive the great career he once had. It is difficult for rock stars and artists to fade gracefully into a life after fame but Paul Simon seems like the type of public figure that might be knowledgeable of himself enough to know when to say when. While “Smile” has a few oases of his old form, Paul Simon shouldn’t have waited so long for his musical swan song. He also should not have waited so long to use producer Brian Eno (of Talking Heads, to name one famous collaboration), though Eno could only do so much to produce Simon out of a mediocre record.

Paul Simon starts with some interesting social commentary in “How Can You Live in the Northeast?” discussing the alienation of ethnic and cultural groups in America. He also has an interesting (though a bit overdone) song in “Everything About It Is a Love Song,” and a strong song in “Outrageous” that expresses the anger of baby boomers over the direction of society. However, even these songs have soft spots and are overproduced in their effort to be fresh in the minds of younger fans. While songs like “Beautiful” show the influence (however dim) of African music on Paul Simon, it is not strong enough to break through the veil of high-tech production values. Songs like “Father and Daughter” are sentimental and nice, which may be closer to Simons’ bread and butter, but even this song seems to be fairly transparent and simplistic. I know it is difficult for Paul Simon to live up to the expectations of a critic who has grown up listening to Simon’s solo and experimental career, but even a hint of his former glory would have been appreciated.

As much as I dislike saying that Paul Simon’s career is over, it would seem to me that Paul Simon’s “Smile” is one last attempt to keep his career going with a production make over and an attempt to experiment with trendy styles. I listened to Paul Simon’s Concert in Central Park recently and I hope that he leaps over this period in his career during his live performances because his past live performances, playing both classics and laid back originals, have been electric.

Grade: C+

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