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 Simon Sings

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With the help of Brian Eno, Paul Simon delivers something so right.

by Chris Wilman in Entertainment Weekly

Paul Simon
ou can call him Rhymin' Simon, but Pensive, Deeply Philosophical Paul is more like it. Surprise, like 2000's You're the One, is light on levity and big on mortality, the meaning of the cosmos, and other existential crises -- demanding stuff that probably won't raise his commercial stock among boomers who would rather be coddled than challenged after a tiring day.

Paul Simon - SurpriseBut patience is rewarded with moments of stellar songwriting. "I Don't Believe" is practically an album unto itself: He starts off by using the title to declare a lack of faith in anything like intelligent design, then, after gazing adoringly at his family, decides he really can't believe love could be impermanent. After that heartwarming conclusion, he doubles back in the coda to take another doubtful swat at religion. Most artists spend entire careers covering less territory.

If Surprise seduces a wider audience than the placid-sounding You're the One, thank co-producer Brian Eno, whose sonic upgrade makes his subject's musings more ear-tickling and appropriately tense. Whether it's the muted foghorn blasts of "How Can You Live in the Northeast?" or the perky trance beats interrupting the otherwise nylon-stringed "Everthing About It Is a Love Song," Eno finds smart ways to accent Simon's worry lines. A-

Eno adds texture to Simon's urbane rock.

by Christian Hoard in Rolling Stone

ix years ago -- after more than a decade of conceptual forays into South African mbqanga, Brazilian folk music and show tunes -- Paul Simon released You're the One, a pretty, relatively straight singer-songwriter album spiked with doses of jazzy patter and modest orchestrations. Surprise plays like a sister record to You're the One, with one key difference: production help from Brian Eno, who pioneered ambient rock in the Seventies before twiddling knobs for U2 and Talking Heads.

Eno outfits some of Simon's most elegant songs yet with spacey accouterments, ranging from the shimmery atmospherics of "That's Me" to the buzzy electro-folk groove of "Another Galaxy." Despite the album's shiny surface, Simon sounds like Simon. Over the spry percussion and electronics-specked Bo Diddley groove of "Sure Don't Feel Like Love," he drops self-conscious barbs with the same pained wiseass spirit that made him poet laureate of New York alienation in the early Seventies. Much of the time, though, he sticks to tender ruminations on time and tide, pledging eternal love to his little girl on "Fathers and Daughters" and working up a gospel-tinged elegy for conflict-ravaged families on "Wartime Prayers." Surprise's mellow introspection ends up just being sleepy on slow burners like "I Don't Believe." But "Outrageous" slides easily between hard-edged and pretty, with Simon dissing big corporations in the voice of an aging striver who does "900 sit-ups a day," then asking, "Who's gonna love you when your looks are gone?" The answer: God, whom Simon praises over a sparkling pastoral groove that almost keeps you from wishing the Eno-Simon collaboration had happened thirty years ago.  * * * 1/2  

 Bush Whacker

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Neil YoungNeil Young doesn't like the president. Or the war. But he still loves to rock.

by David Browne in Entertainment Weekly

  string of harangues against the White House's current occupants, Neil Young's Living With War feels like one of the first blog albums: It was written and recorded in two weeks and quickly thrown up on the Web. (Young began streaming it on his website on April 28, four days before it was sold digitally; the CD arrived in stores May 9.) The album reflects Internet immediacy in other ways as well. The power-trio arrangements have a let-it-rip simplicity; the lyrics are like stream-of-consciousness postings. Neil Young - Living With War(In "Let's Impeach the President," you can hear him rushing to finish long lines like "highjacking our religion and using it to get elected" before a chorus starts.) The choir and trumpet solos sound underrehearsed and ragtag.

But being off-the-cuff suits Young, never more so than here. Whether he's railing against Bush's "Mission Accomplished" ("a golden photo op") in "Shock and Awe" or wondering whether Colin Powell or Barack Obama is up for an Oval Office job in "Looking for a Leader" (the album's most Crazy Horse-style stomper), Young hasn't sounded this fired up in years. The maudlin creakiness of last year's Prairie Wind has been blown away. As he did with 2001's "Let's Roll," Young still strains to prove he's a patriot, this time with a gratuitous choir version of "America the Beautiful." But if this is what it takes to energize Young again, the war may have at least one unexpected silver lining. B+

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