Monday, 5 January 2015
Paul Simon "You're The One" (2000)
That's Where I Belong/Darling Lorraine/Old/You're The One/The Teacher/Look At That/Senorita With A Necklace Of Tears/Love/Pigs Sheep and Wolves/Hurricane Eye/Quiet
"Somewhere in a burst of glory, sound should become review, but if Paul Simon's bound to tell a story, I must admit I'm a little bit confused"
I'm never quite sure what to think about 'You're The One'. At the time it was a relief, after shenanigans in foreign lands and seeing the eyes through the world of a Puerto Rican mass murderer (seriously, see the musical 'The Capeman', the predecessor to this LP). With record sales plummeting and the first bad reviews across the board for a Paul Simon work ever (some of us liked 'One Trick Pony' I'll have you know!), Paul retreated back to his singer-songwriter days and come up with a new album, released with barely any fanfare at all. Not a new concept album. Not an album recorded for one specific genre or with the backing of a particularly country. Not a musical, not a film, not a release promoted by a Saturday Night Live sketch at prime time. Just a new album, to be taken on its own merits, sink or swim. This album doesn't try to change the world, or open the world's eyes to a new vision from a lesser known corner of the globe, or the suffering of an oppressed minority figure in a town where he'll never amount to anything anyway. It doesn't even offer much of the 'real' Paul Simon, with most of the tracks here stories full of characters very much unlike Paul himself - even 'The Capeman' soundtrack recording (which, in the main, Paul didn't even sing) felt as if it had more 'Paul Simon' coursing through it's veins than this.
However, that's not a complaint. The provocatively titled 'You're The One' spends so long proving that this album isn't the one - that it's a humble, quiet, marking time album (even down to the sense that it begins and ends with two quiet songs played on one solitary chord) - that it's often a relief from the all-singing all-dancing predecessors. While the scope and vision of this album is a tad lower than normal, Paul still covers more ground than most songwriters manage in a career and in some ways it's a relief to hear him reel in his themes from saving humanity and world poverty to gentle songs about love affairs, human pack behaviour and the need for quiet. At the time it seemed as if this record all but disappeared (it took me ages to get hold of a copy, which is the sort of thing I expect for Lindisfarne and Lulu records but not an artist of the fame of Paul), a 'Hearts and Bones' for the new millennium released with as little fuss as possible, but like Arty's 'Everything Waits To be Noticed' to come (in 2002) that's somehow rather apt: this an album that's not meant to be heard with a great fanfare. 'You're The One' takes a lot of hearings to get into in fact and even then there's only about half the album I feel connected to (compared to, say. 'Rhythm Of The Saints' that has me shouting 'yes!' with nearly every line). Peaking at the bottom end of the top 20 in the UK and US charts, it outsold 'The Capeman' in most territories and gained some nice recognition (including a Grammy album of the year award, thus making Paul one of only two artist alongside namesake McCartney to get that prize five decades in succession; although to be honest that's more a measure of how awful every other album was in the year 2000 than how great this one is).
'You're The One' isn't a bold album like the last three have been, it's a timid record rather like 'Hearts and Bones' was. Paul poured his heart and soul into that one and was rather upset to find it ignored (even if it's something of a fan favourite today). The fact is that, however much the band tried to cover it up with heavy arrangements and then-modern production values, it was a humble album from a time in his life when Paul felt deeply unsure. 'You're The One' is similar to that, another humble record full of songs about guilt and misunderstandings, only this time Paul has leant not to mis-cast his music or give in to record company desires for commerciality. Like 'Hearts', this is also an album recorded very quickly (by Paul's standards - two and a half years after 'Capeman'!) in an effort to stymie a badly received effort - and inevitably comes out of the oven sounding a little pale and undercooked (a couple more singalong melodies wouldn't have gone amiss). Very little seems to happen across this album, despite the presence of almost all the main players from 'Graceland' and 'The Rhythm Of The Saints' getting involved somewhere, which is a pain in one sense because there's very few instantly loved classics here and you may well file it way, unloved, after a couple of hearings at first - but like 'Hearts and Bones' if you give it time this is an album that will keep on giving across your life. Is it a classic? Definitely not (so far anyway - though if I'm lucky enough to live another couple of decades it might end up there) But is it as forgettable or boring as many fans seem to think it is? No - not once you get to know it anyway.Whether an album that's only halfway to greatness is worth that extra effort is up to you.
We said earlier that this was 'just' an album, for the first time in 17 years. We weren't lying to you or stretching the truth exactly because that's true: nobody listening to this record for the first time or reading the lyric sheet once will notice the kind of unity that belongs to 'Graceland' 'Saints' or 'Capeman'. Paul is clearly enjoying writing for himself again, without the hard work needed to get plots to work or relate to the musicians of any particular country. However the more I hear this record, the more I hear certain themes slowly and subtlety coming together. These two themes are linked: the first is old age, a subject matter which has slowly risen up from the first sprinkled seeds of this record to the point where it dominated Paul's 'So Beautiful Or So What?' record of 2012. The second is one of human error - that it doesn't matter how long you've been around on Earth there's always something new to learn and someone new to learn it from.
This happens most obviously with 'Old', an unashamedly retro 1950s rocker where Paul half jovially, half angrily turns on his friends and family who rib him on his birthday about how old he's getting: which in the context of humanity's great line of progress, of course, he isn't, as he delights in pointing out. That theme crops up a lot on this album, the idea that age doesn't necessarily bring wisdom with it.The front cover of the album might also be linked, the first time Paul face is seen full-on in twenty years ('One-Trick Pony'), even though this was the 'norm' in both the Simon and Garfunkel days and his early solo career. Given that this album came out at exactly the same time most of his contemporaries first stopped appearing on album covers (you can't appeal to the hip young darlings of the era with wrinkles!) Here, though, Paul is proud to face the camera, dressed perhaps mockingly as a modern teen (complete with baseball cap and crumpled shirt), looking not unlike the 'overgrown' Paul Simon Chevy Chase portrayed on the video for 'Call Me Al'. This Paul is no different to how he used to be, no wiser at all really - he just has a few age lines this time around (further proof of this comes near the end of the CD booklet where - oh my goodness - he's wearing a hoodie!) Long dismissed as a 'boring' cover, it might not be quite as instantly memorable as 'Rhymin' Simon' or 'Rhythm Of The Saints' but in context it's very clever if intended - and a miracle if accidental!
Going back to the songs, most of the tracks on this album also deal with age in some way. 'Darling Lorraine' has two lovers playing games with each other (or at least she does with him), enjoying the rows because it means they get to make-up over and over again, although the couple cry wolf once too many times, with Lorraine's unexpected death in the last verse catching us by surprise and reminding us all that life isn't a game to be played the way this couple were playing it. 'You're The One' is an update of 'You're Kind' from 'Still Crazy After All These Years', with Paul pointing an accusatory finger at couples who fall into the trap of petty arguments on the one hand and a lack of passion on the other. 'The Teacher' has Paul's narrator in search of the 'answers' to life, Cat Stevens style, but as he finds only humans he hears only misguided messages and failed rules that don't work to live your lives by (the last verse finds the closest to the 'truth' Paul can find: that everyone is making it up as they go along and that 'sometimes we don't know who we are, that forces will overpower us and we'll cry' however big or strong or respected we are. 'Look At That' looks back to when love seemed a simple thing, with a young couple helplessly in love on their way to school (all join in for the best line on the album: 'We might learn something - yeah, you never know!'), innocent and idealistic, not yet aware of the 'truth' of life that 'to ask somebody to love you, you got a lot of nerve!' 'Senorita With A Necklace Of Tears' admits to making mistakes, imagining a loved one with a necklace made up of every tear she's ever cried because of him and vowing to put things right (it makes a mockery of his line about being proud of his 'wisdom tooth' at the start of the song - again age doesn't necessarily bring with it wisdom). 'Love' just had to be programmed next to it, a tortured haiku-like poem (it's not really a song) about how 'we think love is easy - but it's not easy', in a world where with every progressive passing generation a little of the love in the human soul gets rubbed out, 'crushed like clay'. 'Pigs Sheep and Wolves' sounds like a 'Capeman' outtake, with a bunch of 'pigs' framing a pack of nearby unlikeable but actually fairly harmless 'wolves' into murdering a 'sheep' who strayed too far from their post. While it's all just a set-up, 'animal behaviour' from three groups of people who don't know any better, the links between the present day make this seem like a very 'modern'# song and hint that life is getting worse the longer the human race lives it.
'Hurricane Eye', the last 'song' that doesn't involve a 'space of quiet' looks back on human progress as a 'history of whispers', each generation getting further and further away from the 'source' of what life was meant to be. Our current time is the worst, simply for being the most recent, but we don't notice protected as we are at the eye of a hurricane that seems 'peaceful' and 'ordinary' (we've said it before on this site but it seems right to say it again here: however long humanity lasts the 20th century will be seen as a 'turning point' of change, with so much technology and human rights and art-forms by more than just the top social classes battling it out against ever more oppressive regimes, bigger and longer wars with nastier and nastier weapons and a feeling that as 'free' as our minds are becoming with a spread of art and philosophy, our physical lives are growing more and more trapped, as our dangerous modern world gives us ever more reasons to be vigilant and need that freedom for escapism and to nurture our spiritual sides in a modern capitalist world that doesn't care. That was a public broadcasting service on behalf of the Max The Singing Dog Loony Party and we return you to your regularly scheduled review now). Throughout this album, then, evolution is a joke: human beings aren't evolving, but devolving across the generations, a theme that also links in nicely with Paul's realisations that the wisdom he thought was coming in middle and old age is just a fallacy - that all you learn with age is not to make the same mistakes again, but inevitably you make exactly the same ones again, because you're only human.
Usually when we get an album like this, unsure and rather guilty, something major has just happened in a songwriter's personal life. 'Hearts and Bones', for instance, is very much about Paul's split from second wife Carrie Fisher (with parts of 'Graceland' dealing with the aftermath) and there are countless more examples in the AAA songbook (Lennon's 'Walls and Bridges' about his split from Yoko, McCartney's 'Driving Rain' about the death of Linda and Neil Young's most recent album 'Storytone' reviewed here a couple of weeks back). 'You're The One' definitely seems 'at one' with these records - searching for peace, making mistakes, wishing that everything could go back to being like it was before. However Paul was happily married to third wife Eddie Brickell in this era and had been for eight years - while the marriage has undergone problems (particularly recently, with exaggerated news reports of the pair having rows in public and physically attacking each other), this was actually the closest Paul had come to a stable family life since the mid-70s. Instead the restless urge and uncertainty seems to have arrived directly from Paul's work: his knee-jerk re-action to the music and theatre press' cruel comments made about 'The Capeman' (which wasn't good by any means, but wasn't quite that bad) and the resulting melee (no wonder Paul longed for a 'quiet place' to contemplate: even 'One Trick Pony' wasn't slammed quite as hard; as this album sighs 'Here comes the media, setting up their cameras, asking everybody's opinion...') My take on the album is this: Paul is unsure about himself and his career, not just because he's had a piece of work received badly but because he's had two out of two extra-curricular projects (a film and a musical) savaged so severely. From now on Paul is going to have to reconcile himself with never touching another art form again or resigning himself to 'merely' being a singer-songwriter.
The fact that I've been able to write so much about a theme I didn't even know was there the first dozen or so times I played this record suggests that I ought to have finally 'got' this album by now. I do feel as if I 'know' what Paul was after with the best songs on the album: 'Darling Lorraine' 'Look At That' 'Old' 'The Teacher', possibly 'Senorita With A Necklace Of Tears'... (of course, I'm probably wrong, or at any rate a few layers behind which I won't find out till I'm old and grey; or ever given this album's theme about age not equating with wisdom!) but I can't honestly say I 'get' this album the way I do with most Paul Simons. It's not as if there's nothing really to 'get' either, which is the way I felt about 'The Capeman' : that little list above shows that there's a thought process going on, whether deliberate or sub-conscious (or, as Paul's one of our greatest writers, probably both). It's just that everything is so teasingly out of reach across this album that it's hard to put your finger on any of it, an enigma wrapped inside a riddle printed inside a game of 'Guess Who?' where all the pieces are missing. Sometimes I'll play this record and certain lines and images will really resonate with me, full of delicate shades of colour that demonstrate intelligence, beauty and comedy in equal measure and I'll kick myself for not playing it more often. At other times I'll get nothing but a bald plate from scratching my head so often and a sort of similar-level noise that's terribly lowly mixed (this album sounds quiet even when you play it LOUD!, as if all the musicians are playing down the hallway) and a sound that doesn't seem to change throughout.
So is 'You're The One' a good album? Well, sort of, ish. To be honest it's one of those records I can never quite make my mind up about and a chameleon of a CD that seems to change every time I hear it. Sometimes it's more-basic-than-normal Paul Simon lyrics sound profound; other times they sound stupid ('Hurricane Eye' repeats the title phrase so often it ends up sounding like a political slogan worn on T-shirts, while 'Pigs, Sheep and Wolves' is either a spot-on portrayal of human behaviour stripped back to its most basic and primal, or a ridiculous nursery rhyme we outgrew when we were four - like most Spice Girls songs). The same goes for the music: you expect Paul Simon albums to be buzzing hubs of activity and variety and yet the opening song (on one unchanging chord throughout and repeated again at the very end) can sound like the most boring Paul Simon songs ever. Heard at the right time, though, you'll find nuggets of greatness reaching out to you: even those bookending tracks have a certain spine-tingling feel about them when you're in a patient enough mood to take them, while other songs (notably 'Old' and 'Darling Lorraine') are way more clever than they sound on first hearing, possessing some laugh out loud lines as Paul compares his age to those in the Bible and concludes that actually he's quite young, thank you very much (!) and the passive-aggressive 'Darling Lorraine' and her helpless husband Frank are brought to life in three-dimensions that are almost spooky. Simon lost his knack for being brilliant with detail across this album and the record is full of those nuances, clever lyrics and memorable melodic hooks that make his work so special (and which were rather missing in the 'Graceland' through to 'Capeman' years, when all those drummers and casting got in the way). The difference between this record and it's three immediate predecessors is that Paul is no longer interested in making the big gestures, which robs the songs of the same whiz-bang-in-your-head catchyness of the Simon and Garfunkel and early solo years or the sheer adventurous novelty of the later works. In short, the last three records were wild party animals grabbing our attention - this is a record hiding under the table, afraid to meet our gaze, but while it might take time to get to know it won't leave you stranded after the first handful of playings wondering what the hell 'Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes' actually means or why so many songs about America end up on a song about African needs like some other LPs I could name. Boring or brilliant, sublime or substandard, this album is either both of these things or none of these things all at once, with perhaps two standout songs (although even those won't impress you much at first) and a few less than average pieces (which aren't that bad when you get to know them). Perhaps the honest answer - and the one all reviewers dread - is that I don't know whether this album is any good or not, an answer which probably isn't very helpful. Erm, sorry about that.
Anyway, moving on, 'That's Where I Belong' is a contemplative place to start, a world away from the whirlwind starts of most albums (including 'Graceland' 'Saints' 'Capeman' and even 'Hearts and Bones'). From the start it's clear that this is going to be a 'different' sort of an album, one that the listener has to adjust to and hear subtlety. A close cousin of closing number 'Quiet', there's slightly more going on in this song which slowly builds verse by verse as more percussion gets added, finally reaching the dynamic level at which most Paul Simon songs start somewhere near the end. While musically it's a little bit one note, only really taking fire in the quick shuffle guitar solo that tries hard to switch into 'Graceland' groove before falling back onto its gentler main theme once again, lyrically it's fascinating. Paul starts the song invoking the muse, debating what it means to write ('Somewhere in a burst of glory, a sound becomes a song') before reflecting that, after 17 odd years doing different things, Paul is getting back to where he started, 'bound to tell a story because that's where I belong'. Had 'Hearts and Bones' started with the first song written for it (the writer's block breaking 'Song About The Moon') the parallels between the two albums would have been even more apt. Alas there are only two more verses, the second unusually repeated straight away before moving on to the final end and this song would have benefitted from some sort of a change (like many songs on this album there's no real chorus here). However these are good ones, extending the idea of a song being plucked out the ether into actuality with the idea that love is ever-changing and waiting to be plucked out the air at any one moment depending how we re-act to situations - that 'every ending' has the potential to be 'a beginning' and that problems are forgotten whenever 'I see you smiling' or 'hear you singing'. Life, like music, is in a state of flux waiting to be discovered bit by bit, but it's a constant process that never stops no matter how complacent we get. The last verse then returns to Paul in the present day, 'a spiny little island man playing a jingly banjo', walking down a country path 'where the water meets the sky' - a neat metaphor for both the physical appearance of the horizon (where blue sky and blue water do seem to be 'the same' viewed from certain angles) and the idea that Paul is both rooted and searching for his inspiration from the stars. It's nice to hear him at peace, back where he 'belongs' (especially coming straight after the turbulence of 'Capeman') and the song is very nearly one of the album greats - it just needs that little something more to be truly first class.
'Darling Lorraine', however, is terrific - my favourite on the album not least because it's such a change for Paul's writing style. Poor Frank, you so feel for him in this song: he tries to impress both his girlfriend and us, the audience that he's more than he is, but is too honest and straightforward to keep the pretence up for long ('All my life I've been a wanderer...Not really, I mostly lived at my parent's home'). He adores his girlfriend and then wife Lorraine even though her drama and his ordinaryness drive each other scatty. In keeping with the album theme, both struggle because they've spent their lives dreaming of perfection - and neither of these opposite contrasts are. The song switches between lovely reflective verses that find inner happiness and sudden violent lurching choruses that swipe the rug away from narrator Frank's life with the single word 'What?!?' as Lorraine does something new and outrageous. Declaring constantly that she's 'had enough' Lorraine feels trapped and tries to leave, while Frank reflects on how his life might have turned out without her ('I could have been a musician - I loved the piano'). Suddenly, though, things suddenly turn right: that wonderful first moment when the pair meet, each fooling the other that they're more interesting than they are, then a cosy Christmas night in watching the James Stewart film 'It's A Wonderful Life' (a phrase that also sums up their relationship for that one brief glorious moment). By the end, though, these games and petty arguments and differences are shown for what they are and we kind of get the plot of 'It's A Wonderful Life' in reverse as Frank's bluff is called and he has to live without his darling Lorraine. The last verse when she gets sick is a masterstroke as Frank - whose spent six minutes trying to leave - pleads with her 'please don't leave me yet' and movingly sighs that his wife's fading breath 'is like an echo of our love'. The song doesn't end the way we expect either - it sort of half-fades and then dies out mid-note, with the juggling African/Brazilian rhythms that have been comically juggling their way through the rest of the song suddenly silenced without warning. Poor Frank. Poor Lorraine. Both of them loved irritating each other, but without that spark and that passion there is only silence for both of them. A fantastic vocal performance from Paul at his best really makes this song, switching from his exasperation at Lorraine's 'Your Kind'-style obsession with the little things ('Hey, you don't like the way I chew?!') to tender romance to anger, to regret to the final sadness superbly. Full of quirks and switching from lovable to irascible with every line, both Frank and Lorraine (especially the former) are beautifully formed, fully three-dimensional in all their human glory, the best Paul Simon characters since 'Duncan' way back in 1972. Had 'The Capeman' been written with half this balance of warm sympathy and stinging realism it would still be running at the West End now. Paul's longest ever solo song (at 6:39) doesn't outlast it's welcome by a second, an absolute triumph and the easy highlight of the record.
'Old' is pretty great too, though in a completely different way. Fuelled by a rock and roll riff Chuck Berry would have been proud of, Paul Simon reflects on how very little has changed since he was young ('Genocide still goes on, Buddy Holly still goes on, though his catalogue is sold' - to Paul McCartney as it happens!) By now Paul is physically 'old' and his friends and family seem to delight in reminding him of this - but he always thought he'd feel differently at this age somehow, not the same worried, frustrated poet that can't seem to make life work for him. However compared to the rest of the album, which is deadly serious, this is a delightfully silly song, full of witty jibes at Paul's character and his unlikely reputation as a rock and roll God ('First time I smoked, guess what - paranoid!') and his age ('Man you're old!' his unfeeling friends call - and even some fans given Paul's witty jibes on the following year's tour celebrating his 60th birthday!) However bible scholar Paul knows not to see age in such cut and dried terms: it's wisdom, the Korah and the Bible that are 'old'; by contrast everyone alive today is a 'youngster' with modern thoughts and modern ideals.
Interestingly this verse makes no mention of Paul's own faith of Judaism and marks only his second true religious lyric (following 1975's 'Silent Eyes') - although we've had dozens in the two albums since this one. Clearly a seed was being sown in Paul's mind here although for now it's all part of the joke as Paul goes on to declare that the whole human population is 'young' in terms of Earth's history, the song ending with a giggled 'take your clothes off - Adam and Eve!' Once again we get the album theme that life is short - too short for petty differences ('Disagreements? Work 'em out!' Paul growls in a brief middle eight). The result is a fun, clever song that manages to juggle all sorts of big concepts with the added bonus of being very funny, Paul laughing at his desire to see life in such big terms and his growing reputation as something of an American institution. The truth is he doesn't feel 'old' at all - it's the world that made him feel that way and he relishes returning to the music of his youth for the first time in years, with a defiantly retro sound that's never made him sound younger. Dismissed as something of a novelty song when released as the album's single, 'Old' is actually a clever natural update of earlier silly Simon songs like '50 Ways To Leave Your Lover' that treats serious topics in a jovial way and is all the better for it.
Title track 'You're The One' isn't quite as special as the opening trilogy. A spiky gritty guitar-based jam with lots of warm melodic elements added on top, it's similar in feel to 'The Rhythm Of The Saints' and sounds as if the lyrics were attached long after the music came along (although it doesn't quite match that breathtaking album in terms of brilliant blurred poetry). Paul comments on how past mistakes have led him to feel nervous about his latest relationship even though he knows it's nervous - 'taking it's temperature every hour, nervous when you own it, nervous when it's gone'. After another great comedy opening where he sweetly promises 'twelve angels to guard you when you sleep', before waving them away with the line 'well, maybe that's a waste of angels...', he alternates between love and hate, returning to 'You're Kind' in the way that petty agreements add up and cause divisions no matter how hard he tries. Paul nags nicely in the snappy staccato that 'You're the one! You broke my heart! You made me cry!' But that's only half the story and comes only when he's angry - later, with time to think, he sees his loved one's point of view too, understanding the situation as a 'completely different song'. His conclusion? That even though love is portrayed as something constant and reliable it's actually ever-changing, altering with every shade. By the end the chorus has been altered: the narrator has also made her cry and out there in the wider picture the whole world makes everyone else cry every day. The fact is we're all different and friction is inevitable. We take back what we said earlier - Paul clearly is becoming wiser with age! He still finds it hard though, his humility being the highlight of a song that has several good parts but sounds as if lots of sections have been cobbled together even where they don't fit (an unusual oriental middle eight - 'You are the air inside my chest' - seems particularly out of place, lovely as it is). Not quite up to the opening trilogy, then, but still very catchy and rather clever and with some of the best backing of the album, with old pal Vincent Nguini's guitar particularly stunning.
'The Teacher' is a song that's taken me a long time to get into - more than even the rest of this album. Had I written this review even a couple of years ago I might well have labelled this as another song that doesn't really work. You see, it's one of those slow atmospheric ballads that doesn't really go anywhere and which is spoken more than it's sung, with a melody subservient to the lyrics. This is another good set of words from Paul, though, decrying how most of us in life learn the wrong things and that wisdom comes not from how much we know but how much we've learnt to unlearn. 'A child of the city' whose 'parents were children of immigrant stock', Paul's latest narrator feels homeless and searches out for a place he can call home. However he's still searching and learns that true wisdom is that sometimes life is meant to be like this, that 'sometimes we don't know who we are'. Paul goes in search of a teacher of 'great reknown' but the lyrics get truly weird by the penultimate verse when he finds him, Paul's imaginary teacher 'divided in two, one half ate the forest and the fields, the other half sucked all the moisture from the clouds...' The teacher, then, appears to be God, or at least mother nature, an untameable unknowable beast and Paul stands in awe 'amazed at the power of his appetite' as he ends the song making the ultimate surrender his curiosity can make, giving up his body to find out what happens next ('Carry me home, my teacher!') Steve Gadd's tremendous drumming is the highlight of a song that's hard to get into but is ultimately rather rewarding if you can afford to give this song enough playings to get truly into your pscyhe.
The other album highlight and the thrilling end to what would have been a superlative first side if this was still in the days of vinyl is 'Look At That'. A lovely, bouncy, innocent riff is the perfect setting for this playful song of early love between two pupils at school. The whole world is new, exciting and thrilling - far too exciting for the couple to want to spend their days stuck inside a boring classroom - and they live in a world where 'anything can happen, just like that'. They haven't yet learnt the story of the rest of the album - that you can spend your whole life waiting for something to happen and never get any closer to the truth. Paul sings most of this song in a lovely falsetto but sings in his more modern deeper voice in the delightful middle eight that makes out that life isn't quite this simple: 'Ask somebody to love you takes a lot of nerve!' Adding a silly 'Tih Tih Tih Guh Guh Guh Lih Lih Lih Oom Bop A Doom' (or so it goes in the lyric booklet anyway - it's sung too fast to hear!) for good effect, this is another lovely silly song that tries to make light of the complex theme of human progression, ending with all that innocent wonder stripped away: 'Come awake come alive, through common sense we survive...' Suddenly the world isn't quite as thrilling any more - but at least we're left with memories of how we thought life was meant to be. A gorgeous backing track is the icing on the cake, with Paul and Vincent duelling on chiming guitars that are exquisitely recorded and the band play halfway between bouncy urgency and laidback contentment.
Alas from here the album goes downhill ever so slightly. 'Senorita With A Necklace Of Tears' is another song that's actually quite clever the more you listen to it and very much another song where the music is subservient to the words. However it does take an awful lot of time to get that close to it - at first this song just sounds like one jumbled up mess. In it Paul imagines the world running backwards, his latest narrator 'born before my father', finding himself 'born and born again' until he gets back closer to the 'source' of pure humanity, without being splintered through so many different personalities (Adam and Eve effectively). Somewhere along the line the song takes in guilt (the narrator promises to make up for each of the 'wrongs' he's caused his loved one, who wears them around her neck like a string of 'tears'), a frog in South America whose venom is a cure when used in a particular way (although Paul sounds a bit carried away when he promises an antidote 'for all the suffering mankind must endure') and how this song is a string of 'memories' played on a guitar (erm, quite: Paul's spent too long looking at those Magritte paintings from 'Hearts and Bones' again!) The last verse is nice though: Paul doesn't want to be what the world wants him to be: a judge, a jury, to be thrown through a door to somewhere he doesn't know, to endlessly search for something 'more'. Instead he reflects on another subtle religious reference on this album that only the 'Lord' know who he is because he was there at the beginning of time - but 'that's the way I like it and how I always want it to be'. A more memorable tune would have done this song a lot of favours but it's still another clever and well performed little track that grows in stature with each hearing.
'Love' is another sort of tone poem, without a 'melody' as such, just fragments of ideas which sport a similarly hazy haiku-like feel to the 'Rhythm Of The Saints' album. However these images aren't anywhere near as strong and the result is arguably the weakest track on the album, one that simply tries too hard to break too many rules (that said, I used to think that about quite a few songs on the album - I'll get back to you in a decade's time if I'm still here and see if I've changed my mind by then...) 'Love' is all things to all men: it makes some crave it 'like beggars', makes others 'walk on air' and others 'gobble it up like candy'. Paul returns to the theme of 'Look At That' for the chorus: 'We think that it's easy, but it's so not easy...' adding that love is so big and we're all so very small: that 'We're not important'. By the middle of the song love is the last refuge against a world that doesn't seem to have much love in it anymore - 'evil walks the planet', crushing love as it divides into 'master races', 'chosen peoples' and 'weeping Cathedrals'. However after posing a rather good question about love means in the present day (and equating it with faith, the way he did on 'Proof' ten years earlier) Paul doesn't go on to tell the rest of the story. The song has no ending, it just gets gradually noisier before slinking back to the same main tune again and slowly fading away once more. A shame, because this song has the feeling that something important and powerful has been uncovered - but by the end there's still a veil over this song, a last sheet waiting to be removed so that audience can become as clear about the role of love in the world as the writer.
'Pigs, Sheeps and Wolves' is another lesser song. This time we know what Paul is getting at: like Pink Floyd in 1977 and George Orwell before them this is a world where humans act like animals while pretending they're civilised. This world is, like the other two, made up of plotting powerful pigs and scared suppressed sheep who don't know that the pigs are controlling their every move. This time though the 'dogs' of Orwell's book have become 'wolves', living out their own nomadic existence in packs on the fringes of society. The sheep have been taught by the pigs to be scared of them and are easily framed by the pigs, who con them into thinking they killed one of their own when the dastardly pigs were behind the plot all the time. A dumb judge and a dumber jury let them get away with it and the media accept it without question - clearly something is very wrong with the state of the animal kingdom and it sounds awfully familiar somehow... So far so good, but in practice that means an annoying vocal from Paul (who sounds like he's reading out a story on Jackanory designed for sarcastic kids) and a chorus of 'let's get that wolf, let's kill him, let's get him, let's kill him, let's get him...' that sounds uncomfortably like a nursery rhyme. Another melody bordering on non-existent doesn't help much either, although the swanky strutting riff - which really does sound like a fat pig strutting round a pig sty - is worth a quick laugh. Even so this is many people's least favourite song on the album for a reason - it's either very stupid or too intelligent for me.
'Hurricane Eye' is a little better, even though this song too is full of nursery rhyme references in re-telling the story of how human beings left the great soggy plains that were once their home millennia ago ('It's not too cold it's not too meek...like Goldilocks and the Three Bears'). Paul clearly thinks both scientific tales of our progress and the Biblicial story are ridiculous: 'a history of whispers' that comes from a 'story of how it used to be - make it up and write it down, just like history'. However while the first half of the song is fun, with Paul back in deeply sarcastic mode, by the second half things have gotten serious: people are dying over what was said or not said and interpretations of this 'story'. In another of the best lines of the album Paul records how in the modern day (well, the year 2000) 'speech becomes a crime and silence leads the spirit over the bridge of time'. No, I'm not too sure what it means either, but it still fits - we've acquiesced to the story without challenging it for too long to the point where it ran our lives for us. An angry chorus then kicks in from nowhere, recording how things seem to be peaceful to us in the present day because we're used to it, but really we're living in very troubled times, without the unquestionable faith that's sustained the human race for so many centuries. 'Peaceful as a hurricane, peaceful as a hurricane, peaceful as a hurricane eye' Paul explodes, turning on an apathetic world to do whatever they can to put things right. 'You want to be a leader, you want to change the game?' he asks before withdrawing and claiming that no one can do anything because no one has the right to tell others how to think ('Got that missionary zeal? Let a stranger change your life, how's that make you feel?') In an extraordinary finale he urges that the best way of turning people onto the world is to create something: 'find a quiet place, find a humble pen, you want to talk talk talk talk about it, all night squawk about it...' Paul then offers to give us his version of how the world works. 'Ah-ha' you think, especially given the depth of the lyrics across most of this album, but no - once again Paul is laughing at himself the nonsense some writers churn out with some wisecracking tale about 'an old woman who lived in a shoe, baking a cinnamon pie, she fell asleep in a washing machine...' Once again the rug has been pulled away from us just as we think Paul has found out something important. As a result this is a curious song and another one that's really divided fans: is Paul laughing at us? With us? Does he believe in the middle of the song, the sarcastic beginning and end, or both? While the track doesn't quite work as a whole, it's still a fascinating attempt at trying something big, tied together with the single most memorable chorus on the album. Paul McCartney's 21st century band's drummer Abraham Laboriel Junior's father Abraham Senior plays bass on this track, although once again it's the twin guitar attack of Paul and Vincent that's the most memorable moment.
The album the ends with 'Quiet'. Simple repetitive one-chord mess or profound deep thought? I'm not really sure. It's odd to hear Paul, a man of many chords, stick to just one for the course of this 'song', surrounded by a remarkable drone of instruments including organ, woodwind, vihuela (a sort of Spanish guitar), a '96 tone harp', a 'whirly pipe', a 'rubbed steel bowl' and a 'tromba doo' (which the internet seems never to have heard of - the most I can tell you is that it's a 'dij with a slide' but as I don't know what a 'dij' is this doesn't help!) These instruments build up to a hypnotic wall of sound that's always ebbing and flowing and Paul's lyrics are nicely meditative. While Paul might simply be looking to sleep, the lyrics hint that this is him ready to give his body up and take the next step ('I can lie down on my blanket and release my fists at last'). Here, in this state, he 'knows' what the truth of life is, but it's a truth he'll forget the next earthly obstacle gets him down, where power, greed and irritation are 'handcuffs of the soul'. Paul sighs that 'when everyone else tells you you're not good enough - the answer is you're not' but not in the way that people mean;' the truth is that everyone is human and liable to make mistakes. The song reaches a nice peak here, Paul dropping away from the verse to sing a half scat jazz/half Indian 'woo-oo-oo-oo' that's really effective. Alas a slightly re-arranged repeat of the first verse is something of an anti-climax, ending the song on the cliche of 'mountain's melted snow' that it's done well to avoid throughout the rest of the song. I still can't work out whether this slight, simple song is taking the mickey or whether it's the best thing on the album - certainly it fits the meditative stance of the song and offers nice escape from the 'restless' changing ways of love and life heard on the rest of the album. Is that enough to make it a classic song in its own right? Erm, I'm not sure.
A bit like the rest of the album really: I'm never quite sure whether 'You're The One' is a work of genius from a creative giant or a treading water album from a songwriter struggling to find his voice. Chances are it's both: at times this album is genuinely inspired, at others it sounds a little feeble, but impressively the album themes about the need to stand still and think work well with an album that sounds much the same on first hearing, but slowly evolves into subtlety different shades of colour the more you play it. The irony is that this humble understated much misunderstood album has set the tone for the next two records and counting: even more than 'Graceland', this is how Paul Simon works now (until the next big creative change anyway) and the sequels 'Surprise' and 'So Beautiful Or So What?' are two other albums that both sound dull on first hearing and slowly unfurl while discussing big big subjects - and then whisks them away with silly verses and self-deprecating humour. Is that a god thing? Heck, I don't know - I'm just a reviewer and you're guess is as good as mine. The best we can say is that if you love Paul Simon and have learnt the art of patience (or are patient enough to learn the art of patience from this CD) then 'You're The One' is 'the one' for you. If you're a fan looking for some hits and a nicely catchy bouncy commercial album then you're best bet is to miss In time, perhaps a century or so, this record might become seen as the greatest Paul Simon record of them all - or it might be forgotten, even more than it is now; you just can't tell. What I can tell you is that, if you give this album long enough you will like some of it - it's a bit early to tell yet if we'll like all of it (this is an album with such flux that I sense it will take more than 14 years to tell), but the best parts of the album are more than good enough for me.
With the hunger of ambition that would make the hairs on your head curl, we struggle on reviewing what we can and laughing at the Spice Girls, They are handcuffs on the soul my friend - handcuffs on the soul and worse