I have no time or patience for the Smooth Sounds of the Seventies and Paul Simon is not a favourite songwriter, so you can imagine that this is not a record I’m going to enjoy.
I’m not a big fan of Paul Simon as a songwriter and I still struggle to identify why. He’s one of the first major American songwriters I ever listened to with regularity (like the first) so I do wonder if I associate him with my juvenile tastes, or something. Some of his songs I definitely like way more than others but I often find that I like parts of a song more than other parts. For example, there are lines in “My Little Town” that are really great and, at times, it’s an effective portrait. But it never quite sells me. (In part, perhaps, because Simon is from Newark, isn’t he?)
The classic Simon songs from this record are songs I mostly managed to avoid for much of a my life – released too late to be played on my childhood oldies station and played too soft to make it onto my teenage classic rock station. I don’t know if I’d like them more if I didn’t know he wrote them if I was hearing them for the first time. But they’re definitely better than the deep cuts, some of which feel quite lazy. (Something he’s definitely guilty of on most of his albums.)
I suspect I wouldn’t like those hits any more if I didn’t know he wrote them because one thing I don’t like about the record is its sound – Simon is full-on embracing the cliches of the mellow ’70s on many of these tracks, including a liberal use of the Fender Rhodes, an instrument that just screams folk music. It’s not always the songs with Paul Simon – it’s often his arrangements. (Such as on Bridge Over Troubled Water.) Too often these songs have no edge. And when they do, well the edge is coming from guests more often than not. (And do we really buy Simon’s attempts at R&B?)
The first thing I thought on listening to this album for the first time is “Maybe I’ll just never like Paul Simon”. I’ve softened on the more energetic tracks after three listens but there’s still something about the combination of his style of songwriting – which I don’t always love – and his aesthetic which just does not work for me in any way.