Paul Simon Goes from Stranger to Stranger

Do not listen to Paul Simon‘s latest album. Do not listen to Paul Simon’s latest album. This is the mantra I repeated to myself since I found out the New York septuagenarian was putting out another record. There was no way the folk-singer sage could master the flexibility and lyrical muscle of his youth. It turns out I was wrong. Stranger to Stranger bubbles with a bass-forward sound and amorphous electronic feel more at home on an Animal Collective record than Simon’s previous releases.

That said, you don’t have to look very far to find his fingerprints all over the album. Stranger to Stranger weaves together the best parts of Simon’s other records with an inviting weirdness. The singer’s offbeat observations are as humorous as they are Talmudic. It starts with the one-two punch of “The Werewolf” and “Wristband.”

“The Werewolf” lands the listener in a strange and echoing soundscapes as Simon waxes lyrical about the mundane details of suburban life. Following this, “Wristband” acts as retelling of “Late in The Evening.” Rather than a triumphant return after stepping out for a smoke, a musician is locked out of the backstage and is subsequently kept from his own concert. These situations, much like the rest of the album, are Franz Kafka meets Larry David.

Simon keeps his smart lyricism and rhythm throughout Stranger to Stranger. From beginning to end, Simon’s writing (both lyrics and music) is as keen and incisive as ever. Each phrase in Stranger to Stranger works within the narrative of his songs while pointing to the inequality of contemporary America–a feat that is hard to do without bending these phrases to fit the weird and catchy rhythms of the album.

If you haven’t checked out Stranger to Stranger because you fear disappointment, you have no reason to worry. The album easily sits within Simon’s strong discography without being a mimeograph of his previous material. There are more than a few surprises throughout. And this Saturday, you’ll be able to catch the singer live at Starlight.

Judging from concert videos, despite Simon’s age, he’s able to put on an engaging and electrifying performance–which, as his contemporaries prove again and again, is a hard task to do. Simon is still able to capture an audience’s attention without theatrics (and without the polyester). While I imagine the singer-songwriter will play his hits, Stranger to Stranger should have a strong presence throughout the night.

If this review was capable of anything, I hope it’s a warning. Don’t be like me. Don’t let the fear of disappointment keep you from listening to a record. I was afraid to spin Stranger to Stranger–thinking it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. When I finally did, I was blown away. Listen to the album then catch the legend this Saturday at Starlight.

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