A ‘Beautiful’ blast from the past

April 14th, 2011

If you don’t know why Paul Simon releasing a new album is important, keep reading, but scold yourself later.

If you don’t know why Paul Simon releasing a new album that is as relevant and powerful as anything he has ever done is significant, stop reading: I don’t have enough words left to appropriately admonish you.

Simon’s latest record, “So Beautiful or So What” was released on April 12.

It serves as a gorgeous reminder of why he has merited as much praise as he has throughout his career.

Simon is 70, and this album shows it in the best way possible.

“So Beautiful or So What” is packed with a sense of ironic reflection that isn’t available to the under-30 set. Put simply, this is not a positive record.

Simon’s unmistakable voice and delivery are voicing the ideas of exhaustion, disillusionment and apathy rooted in dealing with the world, and all of its problems.

“The Afterlife” portrays a bitter and sardonic picture of life after death as a pointless bureaucracy.

The opening puzzle, “I thought it was odd there was no sign of God to usher me in,” is bitterly resolved in the bouncy refrain, “You got to fill out a form first/ and then you wait in a line.”

The inclusion of “Getting Ready for Christmas Day” on an April release might seem strange, but this is no holiday jingle.

Like “Afterlife,” this track approaches a supposedly sacred topic and turns it on its ear to reveal an ugly truth.

Simon warns, “The music may be merry, but it’s only temporary/ I know Santa Claus is coming to town.” Holiday or not, this song’s dark tones definitely fit in on this album.

The most telling song on the album is “Rewrite,” in which the singer pleasantly describes how he is improving a book he is writing by removing all emotion for the sake of action that will sell.

Simon portrays the man to have no concern whatsoever about giving up on what he originally intended to write in order to cash in on car chases and explosions.

It’s this half wise, half naïve irony that is at the center of “So Beautiful or So What.”

The title of the record itself tells the story in short order: living today is overwhelmed by an apathetic existence that is robbing us blind.

The music that Simon plays over these less than hopeful ideas juxtaposes the album’s themes perfectly.

He has always had an ear for the world’s music, and “So Beautiful or So What” is no different.

Lush strings, African rhythms, and straight-ahead pop come together to give the record a bright sound that perfectly contrasts the bleak ideas presented in the lyrics.

Some of the songs are undeniably catchy in a way that makes you question how the music is functioning on the album.

It’s tough to have a song about selling out the dreams politely caught in your head all day.

This combination of serious content with airy sounds has always been central to Simon’s work, and this album is no exception.

Instead of comparing this release to Simon’s past works it makes more sense to consider it for what it is: a masterfully constructed record that demonstrates Simon’s omnipresent relevance in music.