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Paul Simon
Warner Bros. Records

It's always something to celebrate when Paul Simon releases a new record. They seem to be fewer and farther between with each passing decade, and with that time lapse comes definite changes in the styles and textures of music that Mr. Simon creates. On Surprise, Paul Simon teams up with the indomitable talents of the master of sound, Brian Eno. Eno is credited with creating the "sonic landscape" of Surprise, and it is easy to discern his influence. Never having been one to take a backseat, it is odd to hear Eno pitching in, but not overpowering the power of Paul Simon's own voice in the music.

"How Can You Live In The Northeast" sets the tone for the record with its lo-fidelity drumming and thick pad-like guitars that flesh out Simon's oddly poetic lyrics as strange keyboard blips dance blithely through the music. "Everything About It Is A Love Song" skirts the fringes of slow electronica, mixing break beats and orchestral strings to flesh out one of the most beautiful songs that Simon has composed since the classic "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her". Lead single "Outrageous" moves away from the slower attitude of much of the record for an in-your-face dissertation on the modern state of affairs, hearkening back to Paul Simon's political-in-disguise lyrical past. The track is filled with Eno's influences, but is a perfect example of how Paul Simon is not so easily overpowered - the guitars are pure Simon, and the arrangement is subtly complex.

The album continues in a give and take fashion, balancing the thin line between Peter Gabriel-like worldbeat and the modernized electronica that is more recognizable as Eno's handiwork. Simon's lyrics are insightful and at times biting, as in "Wartime Prayers", where he meshes his world view with his own internal conflict and states with conviction, "People hungry for the voice of God hear lunatics and liars…because you cannot walk with the holy if you're just a halfway decent man". Mining the depths of modern tragedy, "Beautiful" addresses the way that children have been treated over the past decades around the world, while personal introspection takes center stage on "Once Upon A Time There Was An Ocean". Paul Simon's lyrics remain intensely poetic and metaphorical, while being rooted in stories of common occurrences and common people in the world. This has long been his standard and the reason he is widely regarded as one of the world's beast songwriters; his ability to spin a yarn and hide various meanings to different people in the exact same words.

Simon is in top form throughout Surprise, not only continuing to present some of the finest lyrics in music, but also in presenting an album that is musically captivating and fresh to the ear on repeated listenings. Old friends Bill Frisell and Herbie Hancock drop by for guest appearances, as does Simon's daughter Adrian, who lends a hand on the great tune "Father And Daughter" which was released a few years ago on a soundtrack, but is included here to round out a near perfect collection of sonic and lyrical masterpieces… the latest in a long line of such from Paul Simon (and Brian Eno).

-David DeVoe

Track Listing:
1. How Can You Live In the Northeast
2. Everything About It Is A Love Song
3. Outrageous
4. Sure Don't Feel Like Love
5. Wartime Prayers
6. Beautiful
7. I Don't Believe
8. Another Galaxy
9. Once Upon A Time There Was An Ocean
10. That's Me
11. Father And Daughter

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