Paul Simon's Stranger To Stranger: What You Need To Know
Since his arrival on the music scene as one half of legendary folk duo Simon & Garfunkel in the 1960s, Paul Simon has established himself as one of the world's best-known songwriters, penning timeless hits with Art Garfunkel like 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' and 'The Sound of Silence' before forging a hugely successful solo career that yielded songs such as '50 Ways To Leave Your Lover' and, of course, his 1986 album Graceland.
That record may have marked the peak of his commercial success as a solo artist, shifting upwards of 16 million copies worldwide, but he's continued to release a steady stream of music and five years on from his last album, 2011's So Beautiful or So What, this week he unleashes his thirteenth solo album, Stranger To Stranger. Here's what you can expect this time around...
A little background...
Simon began working on the album almost immediately after the release of So Beautiful or So What, but the songwriter says he has become more conscious of living up to the success he's enjoyed throughout his career as he gets older, telling Rolling Stone in a recent interview: “To get people to listen with open ears, you have to really make something that is interesting because people are prepared for it not to be interesting." The result an album that's far more experimental than you might expect.
Who's producing it?
The majority of the album has been co-produced by Andy Smith and longtime collaborator Roy Halee, now aged 81, who Simon coaxed out of retirement to work on the project, but the European leg of his tour in support of So Beautiful or So What a chance meeting in Milan led to a rather surprising collaboration...
Any special guests?
Electronic artist Clap! Clap! introduced himself to Paul Simon in Milan and the pair hit it off to such an extent that the Italian ended up producing three of the albums tracks, lending a more contemporary vibe to the album's overall feel.
What does it sound like?
Perhaps not surprisingly for a man known for his love of world music and unusual instrumentation, Stranger To Stranger is filled with peruvian drums, African woodwinds and gospel vocals, as well as some unique instruments borrowed from the Montclair State University, created by the renowned music theorist Harry Partch, enabling Simon to create some unique sounds using microtonal scales. Alongside all of these through are synthesizers and more modern-sounding drums. In fact, one of the things that strikes you about Stranger To Stranger is just how rhythmic it is.
A good example of this is 'The Werewolf', propelled by Cajon rhythms and handclaps alongside droning didgeridoo, chimes and slide guitar. Elsewhere, Simon proves that he's lost none of his sense of humour when it comes to lyrics and 'The Wristband' spins a yarn about not being allowed into his own show because he isn't wearing the correct identification.
Does it deliver?
It's hard to imagine any Paul Simon fan not enjoying this record, but it's the kind of thing that might well win him some new fans too. There aren't too many artists of Paul Simon's vintage that retain such a passion for experimentation and Stranger To Stranger never feels like he's just going through the motions, he's still restlessly reinventing and modifying his sound, but he's also clearly still in possession of all the faculties that made him one of the world's most popular songwriters and on this evidence he still has plenty more to offer.