Paul Simon – Graceland

Since Chris has already been on the chain for like 20 emails, I figure one more can’t hurt, and it’ll feel like old times!  I’ll just need to remember that if we get really derailed in discussing this one to take him off the chain before there are too many links for one email box to hold.That being said, I’ve already told Mike what today’s album is, since he’s in recovery mode from yesterday’s Big 4 concert, so it’s just about time for all of the rest of you guys to have the suspense snuffed out of the room.  Today’s record is:

Paul Simon’s Graceland:

If you haven’t heard of it, well then you might just have been born with a predisposed genetic condition which allows you to both turn your hearing off at will and ignore all major forms of pop culture.  Also you should be ashamed of yourself. That being said, here’s the playlist



Paul Simon – Graceland: 3 stars

Precon: Not too familiar with Paul Simon’s solo work. I know old people like him. I remember that bodyguard song with Chevy Chase, and I think he did “Still Crazy.” Can’t think of anything else, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s something obvious I’m forgetting. I’m expecting some pleasant adult contemporary tunes.

Favorite Track: I Know What I Know
Least Favorite: Under African Skies

It was about as pleasant as I thought it would be and more cutesy than I could have imagined. Every song was at least decent and would go well in a movie trailer, but there’s something about this stuff that sticks in my craw. I guess it doesn’t strike me as organic. It’s like children’s music for grown ups. Certainly not bad though. I even like some of the things he does lyrically when he’s not getting too cute. Goes in the “wouldn’t mind listening to it if it’s on” category.


Paul Simon-Graceland

Pre-Conceived Notions-I’ve heard it before, I don’t feel the need to heap more praise upon this album than has already been heaped.  It’s good, but it’s not a favorite, and if my mind is changed by another listen I’ll be surprised.

After Listening: Nope, the album is still just good.  I mean it’s solidly good, but there’s nothing here that grabs me, or grabs me more than before (get your damn hands off me!).  I watched a documentary about the making of this album, and the story behind it is interesting, mainly because of the times in which it was made.  I recognize that this album is symbolic of a significant change in Simon’s sound, but still, most of the songs sound fairly similar and fairly sedate.  I’m also probably not in the right frame of mind to review this in any sort of open-minded way.  I want to hit something or someone very hard right now, and listening to Paul Simon try to get in touch with his true colors is a really trying experience.  For some reason it had the opposite effect of what you would think this music would; it didn’t make me feel more relaxed, it just made me feel slightly ancy and sardonic.  If I was on beach vacation, this is absolutely what I’d want to listen to, but let’s face it, “Call Me Al” stood out because it was pretty much the only radio-friendly, uptempo song.  Paul Simon always has a slight air of pretentiousness about him that can’t help but seep into his music, luckily, he’s not as pretentious as Garfunkel, so I guess, really, I’m just happy no one picked a Garfunkel solo album.

Favorite Tracks: You Can Call Me Al/Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes/Under African Skies (mostly because it’s the one I’m most familiar with.  It’s the song we did a dance to in the only dance class I was able to take at college.  Seriously.  A bunch of suburban, Louis-Vuitton toting girls dancing to Under African Skies.  Hilarious)
Least Favorite: Homeless-which granted has pretty much nothing at all to do with Simon (I’m sure choosing this puts me in the running for worst person ever, but, today, I’m ok with that, on another day, I’ll probably care)

Overall: 3.5


Preconceived Notions:  I’m a little embarrassed to not have checked this out earlier in my life.  I have no explanation for it really.  I’ve heard the excessive praise for this record, and of course the single “You can call me Al” – Chevy chase video, the whole nine yards.  I also have heard that “Al” sounds unlike most of the record. So, I was happy Chris picked this album, b/c I actually also submitted this as a curiosity pick-and he took the bullet for me.

After Listening:  The African musical presence on this is impressive considering…well you know, how very white Paul Simon is….There is some soul on this record.  The choruses with acapella singing are very deep and lush, and the vocals on this album whether solo, or in concert are perfect.  Bass tone is incredible – not quite as low or sharp as pure funk, but sort of a warmed over tone-with a little bit of muddiness for color.  Instrumentation: awesome accordions, trumpets, saxophones, trombones, and all types of percussion devices  they all really give a feel of complete ensemble pieces. You get simply from the arrangements that Simon has a big vision and is trying his damnest to make it happen.  Still at moments, the record is surprisingly passionless. I never feel like the musicians are just “noodling”, but on a good number of tracks it seems like there’s no urgency to the music-and it misses even a laid back vibe and just sort of hangs in a consonant accessible limbo.  I think maybe that’s some of why “Al” was such a hit, it just had an energy that over half of this album lacks.  When you’re building an epic record you want the music to take you somewhere – smiles, love, anger, fear, disgust, relaxation…anything –and yet I feel too often on this thing the music just sits out there trying to pass without commentary.  You’d like to hear a storyteller get more involved in his own story more…but it’s not a death sentence to the strength of the overall work.

Favorite Tracks: “You can call me Al” – When I was a youth I knew a bass player who tried to replicate this bassline over and over again, because it was so awesome.  As we grew up he got better and better, and actually became pretty amazing, but he could never master this line.  Somewhere along the way he eventually found out the bass was recorded backwards – he wasn’t even angry that he had spent all his time trying to do the impossible, he was more like a kid finding out about Santa Claus (spoiler alert!!)…he was pretty devastated.  Anyway, everyone knows this song is awesome – basic pop song with a good hook.
“That was your Mother” – A little Cajun polka beat, which is awesome not only for its energy, but for its tie-in to the African culture as it manifested in America when it mingled with the French settlements of Louisiana.  So maybe the lyrics aren’t deep, but the thought process certainly represents.
“Under African Skies” – Linda Ronstadt is on this?  Woah.  And it works out, as the vocals here are some of the best on the record competing with the larger chorus collections on the album and doing well.  The drums sound appropriately huge on this track – not reverby, just naturally large and echo inducing.

Least Favorite: “Gumboots” – Sort of a rambly musically fairly static effort – indicative of some of the weaknesses on the album.  Good thing it’s short.

Overall 4.4 Deeper than most pop music, it could be argued that was not the intention of Simon…but at the end of it all you are left with some very digestible main stream fare.  The bass tones (even the ones going in reverse) on this album are strong and enjoyable, the instrumentation keeps you listening even when the songs seem to lose themselves, the multi voiced segments more than compensate for Simon’s fairly average voice.  For the time it was released it probably was worthy of all the praise as an “all-timer” album, and I have to say it still holds up pretty well – in age where his vision would be even easier to achieve with advancements in audio recording. I could see many re-listens even if I forget some of the songs as soon as they end.


Paul Simon – Graceland

Preconceptions: I only really know You can Call Me Al. I remember when this record came out and it was like the biggest deal ever. All sorts of hype and praise, and there was some sort of HBO special if I remember correctly, I think having something to do with the tour for the record, or some live show, or whatever. I like Paul Simon, I suppose. I’m actually looking forward to this listen.

After Listening: I now understand this albums lofty status. This in many ways is a very beautiful record. The world music aspect of it comes across very cleanly and unpretentiously, and from beginning to end, it remains engaging and interesting to listen to. You Can Call Me Al, and all its pop glory, is perfectly placed among the more intricate songs on the album, and is a great sort of half-time show, if you will. It’s lively, thoughtful and well-executed—it is truly a masterpiece.

Favorites: Boy in the Bubble; African Skies, You Can Call Me Al, All Around the World…
Least: That was you Mother

Overall: 4.9 stars


Paul Simon – Graceland

Preconceptions: Oh, I remember when this blew the eff up. I liked the South African chorus at that time but it got way overplayed and I was soon sick of it.

After Listening: The 20 year break I took from this album has refreshed me.

Favorites: Boy in the Bubble, I know What I Know, Gumboots,
Least: You Can Call Me Al

Overall: The cultural mashups on this record work amazingly well and still sound current. Having just done the 80s in the Pop Battles, it strikes me on how better all theses songs have aged than their contemporaries.

Ranking: 4.1

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Record Club began in the cold, dank, snowmageddon scene that was New England of January 2011. We’re probably no different than you. We all work in cubicles, some in smaller, less private cubicles than others; that just means we have to be even sneakier about how we listen to our music. But we have to listen to our music, mostly as a way of saving our own personal sanity. Sometimes our opinions lead us to debates that may or may not be published in their entirety on this site, but I can promise you’ll at least get a glimpse of the way our minds work. The main goal is to find new music we like or find old music that we didn’t know we liked. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes it’s a total and complete disaster. After our ears have rejoiced or stopped bleeding we try something else. This is our pattern, every Tuesday and Thursday. Sometimes, when the club isn’t officially in session, just to keep everyone on their toes, we throw in a theme day. We’re beginning to run low on our original list, so please, if you have albums that you’d like us to review or themes that you’d like to see our playlist of, feel free to contribute. After all, we’re all in this together once we punch the time clock. So if you’re busy (or just plain bored) lurking in your cubicle as you read this join in. After all, life wasn’t meant to be lived staring at a computer screen. I guarantee you, it’s at least more fun when you plug the headphones in.

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