Paul Simon/TV on the Radio
And God Said, Let There Be Light: And There Was Light
Paul Simon: So Beautiful or So What (Hear Music)
A good bet to turn 70 before year's end, the patient craftsman surrounds a 96-second acoustic guitar moment with nine four-minute songs about eternity. The mood is melancholy. yet suffused with gratitude‑-for his wife's love first of all, but even more for God's gifts, with the Divinity Himself an actor in several lyrics and close by in most of the others. Fundamentally general and speculative language is always pinned down by a specific or two‑-a blizzard near Chicago, Jay-Z hawking Rocawear, a banker's pockets, a CAT scan and the Montauk Highway, gumbo in the pot and Dr. King shot, the form you have to fill out before you get into heaven. The music is the mild, irregular folk-rock he's explored for decades, graced with global colors that sound as natural as that guitar. I've had many disagreements with my homeboy Paulie, plus I'm an atheist. But here my main quarrel is the identity of the "fragment of song" whose title you can't quite recall as the Divinity Himself sets you "swimming in an ocean of love." Simon seems to think it's "Be-Bop-a-Lula." I vote for the competing "Ooh Poo Pah Doo," in part because I want God to keep creating a disturbance in my mind. A
TV on the Radio: Nine Types of Light (Interscope)
The rumor that this is their love album will come as news to the woman who let him go and the woman who thinks they're incompatible and maybe even the woman whose heart he's gonna keep when the world falls apart. Not to mention the mother robbed blind and the fish washed up on the shore and the blues that keeps him on the shelf and the megaquake that's a force of nature and maybe even the killer crane that's not a piece of malfunctioning construction equipment. Because these guys were lovers before this war, a ceaselessly shifting conflict that has dominated their entire artistic life, love has always been part of their coping mechanism. But it'll obviously never be as big for them as music. In this iteration, that music is a trifle gentler and several times encourages dancing on the floor you've been knocked to. But it remains set on complexity, contemplation, and the interactions of art-rock texture, pan-rock rhythm, and African falsetto. Beautiful, especially if you like your beauty grand. And beauty is good. But how about some jokes? Jokes help people get through wars too. A MINUS
Although it's not mentioned often, Paul Simon is very hard to write about and over the years Bob Xgau has done a helluva job covering the guy. I think the most rigorous and reliable thumbnail guide out there.
The fundamental snag is that Simon has rigid worshippers of a quantity and dedication that Dylan no longer attracts. (They demand reverent coverage. I read some upstate NY paper's review So B or So W that proposed -- "best since Graceland? Nonsense -- the man has never released a less-than-glorious album" and the base will not complain. Ken Tucker did a perfectly credible but more skeptical and aware-of-retreads review that drew scathing, hang-it-up-and-get-somebody-decent-to-write-reviews sneers. All predictable every time Simon comes out with an album. I was once under heavy pressure to produce as positive a review of The Capeman as possible. That was a struggle.)
Simon has been murmuring in the background my whole musical life. S&G were hearty faves of the Sensitive Set in high school -- when I belatedly heard Dylan, his refusal of
S&G sop clarified my taste for me -- but Paul Simon was clearly not stupid. And that's where Bob turned on the light for the first time with his precise praise of Simon's solo debut -- the key point for me was that, essentially, "this guy knows he's done dumb, pandering stuff before and he's dumping it to get closer to his grown-up perceptions." What was even more bracing a few years later was Bob's killer take-down of Still Crazy After All These Years. I knew the record was getting over-praised -- the concrete was starting to set around the reverence -- but when music buds asked, I couldn't articulate just why. Bob explained: the grown-up Simon had a tendency to disappear up his own whatsis and if you didn't watch him close, he'd start slinging the sop again.
So Bob's cheers for So B or So W has strong cred. I would only add that Phil Ramone has a better sense than anyone else of how to place Simon's voice in relation to music. And does a magic job of eradicating both the singer's vocal limitations and the effects of his age.
1. Isn't She Lovely - Stevie
2. To Zion - Lauryn Hill
3. Lullaby - Dixie Chicks (assumes it's about kids)
4. Gracie - Ben Folds
5. Not Yet Three - Jonathan Richman
6. Hey Big Sister - Will Kimbrough
7. Stay Up Late - Talking Heads
8. Memo to My Son - Randy Newman
9. Beautiful Boy - John Lennon
10. Kooks - David Bowie
11. Oh Daddy - Adrian Belew
12. Sad and Dreamy - Alejandro Escovedo
13. Thirteen - Big Star
14. Skateland South - Cory Branan
15. Boy's Life - NRBQ
16. Walkin' on the Moon - Tom Russell
17. Teach Your Children - CSNY
18. Almost Grown - Chuck Berry
19. Little Bastard - **** Ponys
20. Still Fighting It - Ben Folds
21. The Child in You - Peter Holsapple/Chris Stamey
Nicky if you read this, please note that I listened to Sandinista last night for the first time in probably 20 years and had "Rebel Waltz" & probably another song or two in my dreams a few hours later. I didn't get the album 30 years ago. Now, maybe, I do. Fark London Coughing (it's just so...not over-rated, just over-praised, whatever--maybe I'll give it the same treatment tonight), Sandinista is the sh!t!
And good for your roomie.
Too tired to type a whole bunch, but I just wanted to mention to Joe that I played She Who Shall Not Be Named Yet Again last night and I found myself immobilized on my couch. Not bored, just bogged down. Then I switched to Raphael Saadiq's The Way I See It, a record I had thought was a little spotty, and found it the perfect background music to cleaning the kitchen (which, as I've said in other contexts, is becoming quite the acid test for how much I enjoy a record). As a side note, listening closely, I discovered that the string line in that Joss Stone duet was lifted from the Tempts' "Just my Imagination."
What does it all mean? I have no idea. Yet. But there's a lot to be said about the rhythm of life versus the alternative.
Bradley: Way past the deadline for you, but Wee Hairy Beasties are about the best toddler music going that I know of. Not necessarily infant music though.
Writerwise I'm shot tonight, which isn't exactly worth reporting but I feel like yammering, and where else? Plans for an elaborate extension of Mike's EW Consumer Guide post had to be scrapped (alas!!) when the task proved far far far too difficult to manage within the span of time left on this post's lifespan. Had all my choices sorted, too. A couple of A+'s, a few As, lotsa A-s, a handful of ***s **s and *s, six choice cuts, and a possible well-meaning dud. The exercise fostered new appreciation for the sheer task the CG must've been each month. As a one-off joke, it wasn't worth the time it would've required. But there's plenty of writing worth writing about on here, which is hardly news.
So I played the PJ Harvey three times. Then with CG on the brain I offhandedly wrote:
seems to now reckon herself part of the grand Eurogal tradition of cultural and aesthetic isolationism, which is a bigger tragedy than whatever she and her chorus are singing about (“Let England Shake”, “The Last Living Rose”) *
Then I immediately concluded that a) I didn't exactly know what I was talking about, and b) the album isn't really * material anyway. To resort to lame-sounding clichés the record has too much work behind it to deserve without further qualification, it's draggy, pretentious, no fun, a huge comedown from the explosive achievements of the first four, which are easier to hear in recollective retrospect. The first song is interesting and enjoyable and the second pleasant. After that I lose it and don't believe I'm missing much by not coming back. Bush & Björk disease; Yokoisms not exactly worthy of Yoko. It's sad she puts none of her previous fire and passion behind a subject she obviously gives a hell of a damn about, and one which I'll never really understand why it motivates so much art, the Death of the Old Country. Grandiose, shallow art for serious-minded, deep people to mull too hard over. Nothing you qualified folk haven't heart before. So those are my kindergarten thoughts on the subject, but I just wanted to establish my place in the anti- camp, where I soundly belong.
PJ Harvey: Let England Shake [Vagrant, 2011]
Jokes help people get through wars too. [letter][symbol]
Now I'm going to stand in the window as the freezing wind blows through my hair and rattle chains real loud until they light the lamps on every distant hill in sight, dipping back inside every few seconds to check on the thawing tilapia filets and tend to the dying fire, because dying fires are more poetic than blazing ones, not to mention flourescent lights. That old inevitable melancholy in a slowburning stargrasping thin wild ascension towards
On first listen it as good as Xgau and other have said. My question now: Can I expect David Byrne, Elvis Costello, and Bruce Springsteen to also release great albums this year? It's been since '85, '86 and '87 respectively since they've released something close to a great album.
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.
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