Simon and Garfunkel had enjoyed astoundingly success and were at the peak of the commercial powers when Paul Simon decided that had had tired of sharing the limelight and followed the signposts down the path towards his solo career. While it had been Art Garfunkel’s vocals which had received high praise, Simon had matured into a lyricist of rare talent, something underlined by his self titled solo album.
From the upbeat opener “Mother and Child Reunion”, it’s obvious that Simon was happy to keep penning gloriously accessible songs for radio, however it is the second track, “Duncan” which really drives home just how much he had developed as a songwriter and melodicist and how Garfunkel needed him just a bit more than he needed his former musical partner.
Simon takes his foot off the gas slightly with “Everything Put Together Falls Apart”, which is a pretty tune, but hardly attention grabbing, though “Run That Body Down” is a much more satisfying listen, as he stitches crticism of his party life style to a beautifully laid back tune, complete with an enjoyably bendy electric guitar break.
“Armistice Day” is a song that seems to creep up on you, as it evolves from an acoustic and vocal number, the sound slowly thickening to a rich sonic soup of guitars and organ swirls. It’s a clever trick, though it can sound a little stifling as it gets a little bit too much, to the point when the considerably more frivolous “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” comes as a relief as it barrels along.
“Peace Like a River” sees the pace drop again by way of a beautifully reflective and richly textured number, before Simon embraces simplicity again on “Papa Hobo”, a simple yet effective tune, with just a hint of Harry Nilsson about it. “Papa Hobo” is partnered by the jolly instrumental “Hobo Blues”, all skiffle guitar and gloriously loose fiddle playing. It’s taken me years to realise it, but it may be my favourite tune on the whole album.
“Paranoia Blues” does exactly what its title suggests it will, complete with some stinging slide guitar and a marching drum beat. It’s another side of Paul Simon, and one which we haven’t heard a vast amount from down the decades, but it doesn’t sound out of place here. Indeed the whole of this album acts as an audio portfolio of Simon as a performer and songwriter, demonstrating his diversity as a songwriter, as he even embraces a sort of smooth MOR sound on the closing “Congratulations”.
While Paul Simon would go on to pen more focused and certainly more commercially successful albums, this self titled offering finds him enjoying his hard-won creative freedom by stretching his legs a bit and as such is among his most vigorously enjoyable work.