Review Summary: "Their hearts and their bones/they won't come undone." (RIP Carrie Fisher)
Paul Simon had been a solo artist for a longer amount of time than he had spent with Art Garfunkel by the time his fifth studio album, Hearts and Bones
, was released in 1983. Up until the release of his previous effort, One Trick Pony
, Simon had enjoyed a good amount of success, including a Grammy for Album of the Year for Still Crazy After All These Years
. But the commercial and financial disaster that One Trick Pony and its accompanying film had on Simon was marked. Not only was his career at a relative low, he found himself in tumultuous personal times as well. After Pony, a reunion concert at Central Park with Garfunkel sparked a new tour as a duo, and a renewed interest in creating a new album collaboratively, but it soon became clear that they could not work together anymore.
“It didn’t work, musically. Those songs were not, they were not good songs for two voices. They’re different. The writing must be different now, I mean it’s different. So it’s not possible to work together. We had grown apart 11 years. We don’t think the same way musically, we don’t agree, we don’t think the same way. We’d had 11 years of making our own records...no one had to agree with you and you just did what you wanted...Artie would write a harmony that he really liked...I would say ‘I don’t like that harmony’…’we’re stuck, we’re at an impasse. We shouldn’t making a record together if we disagree about what’s the right and what’s the wrong harmony.’" - Paul Simon
“Some of the songs in my private rehearsal time, I took into a wonderful place and saw that it’s just like Bridge Over Troubled Water. Again I’m going to enhance these things and make them very palatable and very appealing cause of what I can do with a harmony and how I can rearrange things and how I can take a good song and add a whole other thing called ‘very interesting performance to good song’... So I was about to do that to all the songs and Paul...Paul called me one day...he said ‘Artie I’m wiping all your tapes. I’m wiping your harmonies off the album’...’and I’m marrying Carrie Fisher on Tuesday, wanna come to the wedding?’” - Art Garfunkel
The Simon and Garfunkel studio collaboration, tentatively titled Think Too Much
, was a failure, mainly because the set of the songs that the duo were working on - the same set that appear on what would eventually become Hearts and Bones
- contained the most personal lyrics that Simon had penned in his entire career, and were not made for Garfunkel’s soaring vocals. In addition, Simon’s up and down and recent marriage to Carrie Fisher would also greatly influence the overall somber tone that the majority of the lyrics on Hearts and Bones
carries. Their marriage would only last about a year due to Fisher feeling “pinned beneath Paul’s ever spinning, ever controlling brain,” while Simon also having trouble due to Fisher’s heavy drug abuse. The result of that marriage directly contributed to Simon writing the title track, opening with the line describing himself and Fisher as “one and one half wandering jews” over beautifully picked guitar and understated rhythm, and then continuing:
“Thinking back to the season before/looking back through the cracks of the door
Two people were married/the act was outrageous/the bride was contagious/She burned like a bride.
These events have had had some effect on the man with the girl on his side”
To this day, the title track remains one of the most deeply profound and stunningly beautiful statements that Simon has recorded during the course of his 40+ year career. The rest of the album is an extremely poignant (and sometimes just plain sad) vision of Simon and how he perceived himself, his relationships, and how he saw the world around him. Two versions of the song “Think Too Much” appear on this album, with the first version being following the same lead as the title track as a softly spoken, with lullabye like instrumentation; on the contrary the [a] version is much more poppy and upbeat. The lyrics on both tracks are identical, speaking to his crumbling marriage, and how the “smartest people in the world/gathered in Los Angeles/to analyze our love affair/and possibly unscramble us.” Simon also muses about his difficult marital circumstances in “Train in the Distance,” with Simon telling the listener that “disagreements had begun” and that “the man and the woman remain in contact...let us say it’s for the child” over heartbreaking vocal harmonies that echo over the track.
While Hearts and Bones
remains somber almost entirely throughout - from the beginning of first track “Allergies” (“But my heart is allergic to the women I love/and it’s changing the shape of my face”) to closer “The Late Great Johnny Ace” (“When a stranger came up and asked me, if I’d heard John Lennon died”), but there are moments of respite, in the form of the more poppy (and also much less memorable) tracks such as “Cars are Cars,” “When Numbers Get Serious,” and highlight “Song About the Moon”). These songs are undoubtedly dated, and also unfortunately completely devoted to the same weird early 80’s sound that Simon had used on One Trick Pony
, but are necessary to moderately counteract the other somber tracks.
Hearts and Bones
remains Simon’s most personal and also least known solo work because his next studio album, Graceland
, would not only revitalize Simon’s career, but his personal life as well. Hearts and Bones
would follow its predecessor to the bargain bins, but has more recently experienced a critical resurgence. In the time since its release, Simon has not since been nearly as personal in his lyrics, with his career focusing on the emerging world music genre during the 80s and 90s, and now, commonly reverts to more obscure issues in the world instead of looking inside himself for inspiration. But, the failed collaboration with Garfunkel and Simon’s troubled relationship with Carrie Fisher remain woven indelibly into Hearts and Bones
, and despite its personal and sometimes uncomfortable moments, it remains is absolutely essential listen for those who are fans of his efforts as a singer-songwriter.