Review Summary: Elvis Costello thinks it's awesome; so should you.
A woven approach for an album, So Beautiful or So What
is indeed beautiful, but it's not necessarily as completely traditional (man vs guitar) as it's been proclaimed. Nuances of world instrumentation from the kora to the angklung are recollections from Paul Simon's Graceland-Saints
period, while his own eloquent dramatisation of life, spirit and time are everlasting items that he's never forgotten to write about. These, and others, are scattered seemingly at random, and he still manages to throw in the odd audio loop wherever appropriate, though less stridently than previous releases. So, perhaps what makes this somewhat different is its diversity, and it's where this album shows radiance. With a little bit of every decade thrown into one neat 38 minute package it's a wonder where Simon's music can't take him.
While being distinctly bittersweet end-to-end, it isn't without jovial notions thrown into the works, like the opener, “Getting Ready for Christmas”
which at first sounds a little startling through a rotating speaker effect on his acoustic guitar – similarly the rest of the album is littered with brief flashes of production brilliance thanks to Phil Ramone. Likewise, “Love is Eternal Sacred Light”
is smartly written amidst a punchy kick drum and rocking rhythm combo, artfully constructed lyrics propel it to towards a greater wisdom. Then there are dreamy acoustic landscapes, “Love & Hard Times”
and “Questions for the Angels”
, three of his alleged traditional works, which are all elegantly tranquil. The latter of the three is possibly the album's gem-track, underpinned by melancholic acoustic guitar and hidden behind subtle vocal-work like “If you shop for love at a bargain store and you don't get what you bargained for... can you get your money back”
; you'll find plenty of other shimmers of lyrical artistry elsewhere too.
What becomes clear – rather quickly – is that those initial woes of same ol' tricks aren't present; Simon has in fact created a record anchored around his own competencies, particularly through a guitar, assortment of worldly instruments and other influences like bluegrass and rockabilly. This is indeed no one trick pony
. With his patchwork of influences and stylistic gatherings, Simon inevitably reaches what he clearly set out to achieve. If your considering a purchase, download or whatever happens now, consider this. It's been a while since he sounded so definite, so assured of his own aptitude that it's an insanely appropriate addition to his lifetime of accomplishments.