Simon and Garfunkel Slay Silence With Second Album

Aug 16, 2003 (Updated Apr 26, 2004)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:great songs

Cons:they didn't have time to do everything with the album they wanted to

The Bottom Line: Simon and Garfunkel's second album is brilliantly done despite the speed with which it had to be produced, paving the way for even greater future albums.


Finally, I’m concluding my series of reviews (scattered over several years) of Simon and Garfunkel’s five studio albums, all of which are extraordinarily impressive efforts. This second album is titled with the song that changed the lives of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel forever. While Paul was busy traveling the folk circuit in England and Art was back to his studies at Columbia after their first album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., failed to garner much attention, a DJ got ahold of the acoustic ballad and played it on the air with souped-up electric backing. Paul learned it was on the charts just as he was about to go onstage in England. Needless to say, the future plans of both underwent a dramatic change.

I read that once Simon and Garfunkel got together again, they felt under great pressure to put out an album as quickly as possible, and as a result felt that they were not able to put the amount of care into the production that they wanted to. Nonetheless, this is a very high-quality album, with several songs that have stood the test of time.

Side One

The Sounds of Silence - I still can’t decide which version I like better. The acoustic version is very intimate, with the closeness of the two voices evident. Additionally, it is possible to isolate Art’s melody and Paul’s harmony; because of the way the Wednesday Morning was recorded, this is possible throughout the album, and kind of a neat trick. But this version also works well, with the electronic instruments underscoring the dynamics of the song. They also are a reminder of the technology ironically contributing to a widespread breakdown in communication. The louder and more cluttered the song is, the more it speaks to the unwillingness of people to really speak and listen to one another. “People talking without speaking, people hearing without listening, people writing songs that voices never shared. No one dared disturb the sound of silence.”

Leaves that are Green - One of a few Simon and Garfunkel songs whose lyrics are very depressing but whose musical mood and tempo is upbeat and cheerful. I’m guessing that’s intentional, as though the narrator is trying to trick himself into being optimistic even though he sees life falling apart around him. It’s a song about the transience of life, the lament of a young man in his twenties that his prime is not going to last very long. It’s not a bad song, but the lyrics really are a downer, and I would say they are rather weak as far as Paul Simon lyrics go. My favorite line: “Hello, hello, hello, hello, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye. That’s all there is.” Profoundly simple? Perhaps. But it’s sure not headed for the Lyrical Hall of Fame.

Blessed - Again, pretty bleak. There is no musical artifice here; the music matches the despair and angst of the lyrics. It’s a subversion of the Beatitudes, basically Paul saying, “You said all these people would be blessed, and look at the mess they’re all in.” I read that he wrote this after hearing a sermon somewhere on the Beatitudes and being disgusted with the lack of congruity with the reality he saw. Like Silent Night, it uses a classic Christian text and challenges it. In addition to the Beatitudes, this song draws from Jesus’ dying words on the cross: “Oh, Lord, why have you forsaken me?”

Kathy’s Song - Art Garfunkel, who sings it regularly in concert, has referred to this as Paul Simon’s most beautiful love song. I’m inclined to agree. It is also one of Paul’s simplest songs, being merely 6 straight four-line verses with roughly iambic tetrameter and an ABCB rhyme scheme. No chorus, no unexpected rhymes or rhythms…uncommonly uncomplicated. This track is Paul’s show, his chance to shine; Art gets his chance on the flip side with April Come She Will. I prefer the live version of this song, but this version is very similar. In this love song to Kathy, his girlfriend in England, Paul is forlorn by his absence from the one he loves. The song is framed with images of rain, adding to the impression that he is very depressed without her. “I know that I am like the rain. There but for the grace of you go I.”

Somewhere They Can’t Find Me - A reworking of Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., this song contains most of the same lyrics, aside from the chorus, which the former lacked. The musical tone is much different, much louder and bringing out the thrill of the chase instead of the anguish of separation. In the first song, the offender sounded youthful, innocent, someone who had made an uncharacteristic mistake and was now going to pay for it with his happiness. This narrator seems much more crass and experienced. He says he’s sorry to leave his ladylove, but there is much less affection apparent in this version and his sincerity is questionable. He just seems eager to get on the road and elude the authorities. “Before they come to catch me I’ll be gone, somewhere they can’t find me.” It’s interesting to see what a difference there is in the two songs stemming from the same lyrics. I prefer Wednesday Morning, but Somewhere is good as well.

Anji - A chance for Paul to show off his guitar skills. An astonishingly adept guitar player, Paul masters this intricate composition by English guitar great Davy Graham.

Side Two

Richard Cory - It’s interesting how many of the songs on this album are drawn from other sources, either earlier Paul Simon material or classic writing with a new twist. There are five such songs on this album, and this is one. I remember reading Robinson’s poem of the same name as a sophomore in high school. Paul takes that poem and works around it, writing a hard-edged song in the voice of a discontented factory worker disgusted by the elegant life his boss lives. The worker is astonished to discover that Richard Cory, in spite of his wealth and high standing, kills himself. “My mind was filled with wonder when the evening headlines read ‘Richard Cory went home last night and put a bullet through his head.’” I read an analysis of the song once which speculated that the repetition of the chorus concluding in “I wish that I could be Richard Cory” after this revelation indicates the depth of this worker’s despair. No longer does he mean “I wish I was affluent like Richard Cory” instead, he means “I wish I was dead like Richard Cory.” An intriguing analysis, and it makes perfect sense to me.

A Most Peculiar Man - Another song in which I like the live version better. I really can’t wait to get the live album from 1967! This tragic song was inspired by an obituary Paul saw in which a neighbor referred to the deceased as “a most peculiar man.” He thought that was such a sad summing up of a person’s life that he decided to write a song about it. This is the tale of a lonely man who is understood and loved by no one. “He lived all alone within a house within a room within himself.” His death is remarked upon, but little more, and the neighbors come across as dreadfully insincere. “All the people said, ‘What a shame that he’s dead but wasn’t he a most peculiar man?” We are left with the idea that these people have no sense of their own role in his demise and are certainly not going to take any steps to reach out to another person in his situation.

April Come She Will - Based on a nursery rhyme, Paul adds a companion to each line of the five-line rhyme and adds two final lines, adding to the original poem’s internal rhyme structure with an ABCB rhyme scheme and turning it into a song about the birth and death of a romance. Art’s vocals shine in this simple song, which he occasionally sings in concert. After Art’s girlfriend Laurie Bird committed suicide in the late 㣪s, this song became a reminder to him of their passionate but ultimately tragic romance.

We’ve Got a Groovey Thing Goin’ - For some reason, the liner notes on the back of the album merely say “Just for fun,” not even including a quote from the song as all the other tracks with lyrics do. I guess they didn’t thing very highly of the song’s quality. Interestingly, “groovy” is spelled with an “e,” even though Feelin’ Groovy on the next album is spelled without one. Actually, I think this is the only place where I have seen “groovy” spelled with an “e.” Anyway, it’s a fun and upbeat song in which the narrator pleads with his girlfriend not to desert him. “Oh baby, baby, you must be outta your mind. Do you know what you’re pitchin’ away? We’ve got a groovey thing goin’, baby, we’ve got a groovey thing.”

I Am a Rock - What Art calls Paul’s most neurotic song. The narrator sounds extremely cold and unkind, but pitiable all the same. I’ve always thought of him as an Ebeneezer Scrooge. He is afraid of being hurt, so he won’t let anyone get close to him. “I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died. If I never loved, I never would have cried.” The song has a real bite to it, and Paul’s vocals are most prominent throughout. It’s also got one of my favorite instances of alliteration in a Paul Simon song: “I’m a freshly fallen, silent shroud of snow.” Nice.

Another great album by Simon and Garfunkel, and the best was yet to come in their career as a duo. There have lately been widespread rumors about the possibility of a Simon and Garfunkel reunion tour this fall. Though rumors of this kind have always been floating around, Art himself indicated that it was a real possibility; his website confirmed it for a while but now has gone back to saying “we’ll let you know if it happens.” Seeing Simon and Garfunkel perform together live would be an incredible thrill for me and for countless others who have treasured their music for years. But whether or not the reunion tour happens, the sound they created will always be available for enjoyment on this and their other albums.

Simon and Garfunkel reviews:
Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.
Sounds of Silence
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
Bookends
Bridge Over Troubled Water
Concert in Central Park
Greatest Hits
Old Friends
Concert in Central Park - DVD
2003 Reunion Concert


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