Review Summary: Tight pants.
I hate that album cover. The saying goes that one should not judge a book by its cover, but I find myself betraying that golden rule almost every time I listen to music. Sometimes the cover is meaningless, providing few clues to the contents hidden inside, while other times, it gives a glimpse into the very soul of the music, adding to the experience that the music may bring to the soul of the listener. Given the importance of the album cover as a supplementary piece of art to the music waiting behind it, I do not understand why Paul Simon chose this album cover for his third solo album Still Crazy After All These Years
, and I probably never will. Like most of Simon’s previous solo releases, the artwork is not meant to be flashy, life-changing or distract the listener from the music inside, in fact, the picture is just supposed to be a simple framing of Simon posing over a dusty city landscape. But, to me, from top to bottom, it is appalling. Simon, who has never been one to steal the limelight, and who was known for being notoriously quiet and reserved, looks uncomfortable head to toe. From the peak of his ill-fitting cowboy hat, to his open shirt revealing his thick mane of chest hair, all the way down to his unnecessarily tight pants, Simon appears as we have never seen him before: seemingly confident, but at the same time, completely out of place. One can almost imagine Simon thinking ‘the bar is not all the way down, and I want to get off the ride.’
This awkward pose may have left prospective listeners thinking: what is Paul Simon doing? After all, it had only been just over a year since Simon wowed his audience with the rich diversity and joyfulness of There Goes Rhymin’ Simon
, and only a few years removed from his time with Simon and Garfunkel. When Still Crazy
was released, Simon was still at the relatively young age of 33, and even though he had been making music for a large audience for over a decade, he continued to maintain his versatility as a songwriter over the course of these ten tracks. In comparison to the bouncing sound collages of Rhymin’ Simon
, Still Crazy
is relatively consistent in that its overall sound is somber and touching on nervously depressing, often utilizing volatile and delicate instrumentation on a number of tracks that deal with lost love, despair, and just getting through it all. The album opens with the title track that tells the story of a lonely man at a bar sharing a few drinks with an “old lover.” The narrator then subsequently stays up all night, finding himself stuck in the past even though he should have moved on long ago: “four in the morning/crapped out, yawning/longing my life away/I never worry…it’s all gonna fade.” Similarly, on the next track, “My Little Town,” Simon teams with Art Garfunkel for the first time since their break up to bring Simon’s vivid poetry to life as it had so many times before. The duo presents the image of a young boy solemnly pledging allegiance to a wall at school, before running home past the factories and spotting a rainbow where “all of the colors are black” not due to pollution, but due to our lack of imagination. The old friends make the track complete with a classic vocal performance placed on top of an arrangement based on a single piano that gradually builds to include horns and bongos by its rousing end.
As the album progresses, Simon continues to scorn about the past and air his requests. “I Do It For Your Love,” and “You’re Kind” start off with Simon writing in the style of his contemporary Paul McCartney by describing a seemingly good relationship, only for it to end in regret. Simon states that “love emerges/and it disappears” in the former, and finds excuses to leave in the latter by cooing: “I’m gonna leave you now/and here’s the reason why/I like to sleep with the window open/and you keep the window closed/so goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.” The other tracks on the album mostly find Simon in a very dark place as well, quietly describing the death of a pitcher and subsequent loss of the entire season during a baseball game in “Night Game.” That’s not to say that the entire album is meant to listen to while you wallow in your sorrows. Two tracks, including the Phoebe Snow accompanied “Gone at Last” and the semi-funky and addictive drum line of “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” pick the tempo off the floor and balance out the album nicely just as the listener begins to question Simon’s emotional state.
Despite it mainly being a gloomy and low-key affair in comparison to some of his previous solo releases and having some minor tracking issues and a couple of throwaways, Still Crazy After All These Years
brought Paul Simon some of the most critical acclaim that he would receive during his long solo career. The deeper cuts made the album raw and emotional enough to be a complete listen, while the upbeat tracks scattered around the gloomier numbers made it accessible enough for mainstream listening, and eventually garnered Simon’s second Grammy for Album of the Year. So, maybe the old saying of not judging a book by its cover is one that we should all take to heart, because despite Simon’s wide smile, confident posturing, and revealing pants on the sepia-toned front of Still Crazy After All These Years
, inside, Simon revealed to the world that he was completely burnt out from the roller coaster of the past twelve years, and that he was ready to move onto the next ride.