sat 25/05/2024

Album: Paul Simon - Seven Psalms | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Paul Simon - Seven Psalms

Album: Paul Simon - Seven Psalms

At 81 Paul Simon's meticulous poetry still has power to stop you in your tracks

'The effect is like a ritual incantation, utterly absorbing'

Paul Simon is an ornery bugger. Full of awkwardness and perversity as a person, seemingly hugely detached, but as an artist capable of as much tenderness and directness as just about anyone out there. Capable of making world-changing artistic statements but queering his pitch with bizarrely, unnecessarily reactionary statements or actions. Really, a very weird man.

But thankfully, he’s never gone all the way into cantankerousness. He’s not a Morrissey, so high on his own farts that the perversity becomes his entire persona, and every action and word is layered with provocation and second guessing. There is always something there which reminds you of the magic and sincerity of his best work, which shows that he’s capable of seeing past his own ego to the wellspring that inspired him in the first place.

Which is why, even at the age of 81, he’s still doing new things, and still channelling beauty. This 30-minute album, though broken into seven segments, is essentially a single piece: a folk-blues-hymnal musing with electronic enhancement but held together by circling fingerpicked guitar playing that straight away takes you back to the perfection of “American Tune” and “Something So Good”.

There are no song structures or hooks as good as those tracks, mind. Rather there is an ebb and flow of melody, Simon’s voice now fragile but still 100% his own instrument, and an endless torrent of perfectly turned, imagination-sparking phrases. From the very first line – “I’ve been thinking about the great migration” – they just keep coming. “Are we all just trial and error?” “Two billion heartbeats and out.” “The lord is the ocean rising.” “The lord is a terrible swift sword” (and not, as I thought incredulously on first three listens, “the lord is a Taylor Swift song”).

Even a seemingly banal phrase like “Hurry, get yourselves inside the truck”, in context buzzes with poetic resonance. The effect is like a ritual incantation, utterly absorbing, less imposing Simon’s thought on you than drawing you into the same meditative space he’s in to consider mortality, purpose, belonging and the rest. It’s self-absorbed in the best possible way, paradoxically feeling generous and welcoming even as Simon seems to sing to himself. Its meandering structure can lose you sometimes, but then on another listen it’ll be completely compelling again and a new one of those phrases will stop you in your tracks. It may not be his masterpiece, but it is a really, really beautiful achievement.

@joemuggs

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