PAUL SIMON – Stranger to Stranger (Concord): Rhymin’ Simon is still prayin’ after all these fears of whether God really exists and if all this suffering’s for naught, writin’ his verse for the universe at the tender age of seventy-four, as sweet and spry as he was when he started his career over fifty years ago. Simon seems to have reconciled his anxiety about the great beyond with “Proof of Love” from God, told he can rest assured that his “days won’t end with night.” There is an afterlife, Simon wants us to know, though it’s “six trillion light years away.” The good news? Those who feel a thrill “when evil dreams come true” ain’t comin’, which makes all this disarray here on crummy old Earth a little more bearable.
So says Simon. He doles out the rhythms in hand claps and bass slaps, tuba toots and soukous guitar slides, juggling narratives about a quest for God’s acknowledgement and the street angels who never had a shot. Out the gate a Milwaukeean man with a “fairly decent life” is murdered by his “fairly decent wife” with a sushi knife, all a setup to show how “The Werewolf” of our fleeting pleasures is coming back to bite us in the ass, rich and poor alike. A musician stepping out for a smoke accidentally gets locked out of his own gig and can’t get back in because he lacks a “Wristband,” a metaphor he employs for the stifled mobility of “the heartland towns that never get a wristband / Kids that can’t afford the cool brand,” where the division between the haves and have nots splits regardless of merit and is as arbitrary as a birthmark.
But this is not a dark forty minutes. Simon adopts the moniker that may or may not have been the tattoo of baseball legend “Cool Papa Bell” as the album’s spirit and his personal philosophy: “Mr. Wall-to-Wall Fun.” His faith while not orthodox is unshakeable. In a conversation with a street angel, Simon learns that God’s a fisherman baiting his line with prayers and wishes. So why do we bite? Because “we hide our hearts like holy hostages / While hungry for the love.” A MINUS