Saturday, March 03, 2012

Hearts and Bones (1983)

Listening to these old Paul Simon albums lately, this is the one that has somehow ended up sounding best. I always liked it, even back then, when it was taken as more or less too-bad-so-sad aimless drifting. And there's a case to be made for that. But all the conceits Simon reaches for here—the Diaspora, French surrealism and some of the most beautiful music of the '50s, modes of modern conveyance, and even numerals, all in the context of gittin' the durn songs written, the songwriter as gentle (and gently affected) working man—actually feel organic and credible to me on close examination. Or organic and credible enough. Simon found a way to be natural here—rueful, light-hearted, and earnest, all by turns, all seductive and all believable. I mean, I know, forget it, Jake, it's Paul Simon. A life of means and imposing sense of bruised presence is the given; it's where we have to start. But I don't know how many other places he puts his natural songwriting skills to work in such a relaxed, freewheeling go. He's positively playful on goofs such as "When Numbers Are Serious," "Song About the Moon," or "Cars Are Cars." "Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War" dares to go where the titles are obnoxiously long and wordy and pretentious and comes back with something exceedingly lovely, swirling round itself like the gauzy fabrics wielded by Stevie Nicks on stage the names and hints and faint echoes of the sounds of such lovingly recalled vocal group acts of the '50s as "the Penguins, the Moonglows, the Orioles, and the Five Satins." It continues to work even as he sings in French, largely, again, because I think that's some of the music Simon was most personally affected by. It's coming from an authentic place. Then there is a "Think Too Much" suite, with the "B" version preceding the "A" by two tracks (and I believe opposing sides of the vinyl LP), which of course is slyly designed to produce the effect described in their titles, and presumably the songs too, though as always I often find my attention wandering when I start trying to pay close attention to Paul Simon's actual streams of words. The homerun for me here is the closing track, "The Late Great Johnny Ace," which conflates the deaths of Johnny Ace in 1954 and John Lennon in 1980, with their curious rhyming points, and soars on its own bittersweet fragments of recollections, which constantly threaten to become suffocating but never quite tip over (YMMV). The song, the side, the album ends on a beautiful, confounding, and haunting minute composed by Philip Glass for strings, clarinet, and flute, effectively a kind of "A Day in the Life"/"Eleanor Rigby" memoriam by its perfectly canny placement.

No comments:

Post a Comment