Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger
Stranger to Stranger is Paul Simon’s thirteenth solo album, and it was released June 3, 2016. The album was Simon’s highest Billboard debut, at number 3, and reached number 1 on the UK Albums Chart. The 74-year-old is a master lyricist and folk rocker, with 50 years of tunes and a dozen Grammys under his belt.
Simon uses obscure instruments like the chromelodeon and cloud-chamber bowls on the album. The instruments were created by Harry Partch in the mid-twentieth century to compose music on a microtonal scale, giving the album a unique sound. Partch used 43 tones in an octave instead of 12 semi-tones.
Simon also features a one-string Indian instrument called a gopichand on the upbeat “Werewolf.” This first song sets the tone for the variety of styles on this album, with its world beat percussion, folk tale, howling, and mosaic of sounds. I especially liked the organ around the 2:56 mark. That makes the whole song for me.
“Wristband” is my favorite song on the album. The storytelling lyrics are amusing and original. The official video for the song contains a tribe of musicians playing upright bass, brass, percussion, and even a groovy accordian.
“The Clock” is an instrumental with straight, rhythmic chiming. Love the vibes. “Street Angel” appears in the third song on the album, and the character later reappears in the E.R. The song is classic Paul Simon, though I didn’t find the music as interesting as the premise. Simon wanted to write a story about a character that appears in more than one song. The Satan back-up vocal effects were a little distracting, but the drums were spot on.
The title track “Stranger to Stranger” asks a familiar question,
“If we met for the first time, this time, could you imagine us falling in love again?”
Listeners are treated to lush, rolling, ambient guitars. The song leans a bit modern within Paul Simon’s catalog of songs. Just once, I’d like to hear Simon really let loose with some passionate singing, but I know that’s not really his bag. “In a Parade” revisits the world music vibe.
“My head’s a lollipop, and everyone wants to lick it.”
Again, the lyrics surprise, though the song is repetitive.
“Proof of Love” combines perfect acoustic guitar textures with brushes on a snare, and some rare female background vocals. I really liked this piece. Sad in its soul, but it feels like everything will be ok in the end. Clocking in at 5:45, the song could be 2 songs. Love the muted trumpet solo. He explores a nice upper vocal range towards the end of the song that we rarely hear.
“In the Garden of Edie” is a sweet ode to Simon’s wife. The style of the song is reminscent of Sting/Dominic Miller. Beautiful and romantic, I enjoy that he lets his guitar do the talking, though the random humming adds a delicate touch.
There are different musical undercurrents in “The Riverbank.” Simon’s voice floats along over the top of many instruments, weaving in and out of the song. The song relies on rhythms to capture the audience, as there is not a strong melody. According to Rolling Stone Magazine, the song was inspired by events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as Simon knew one of the victims.
“Cool Papa Bell” reminds me of “You Can Call Me Al,” with a touch of Prince in the lyrics. I dub this style Mo-fo rock.
The final cut on the album, “Insomniac’s Lullaby” feels like soundtrack music for a dream. Parts of the song remind of The Beatles. What I love most on this album is the variety of styles and the fun lyrics. Where some artists grow stagnant, Simon continues to release fresh new sounds. I’d love to hear what you think. Please share your opinion in a comment below!