After 1973’s uncharacteristically upbeat There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, Paul Simon’s next release was the enjoyable but inessential single live album Live Rhymin’ (1974). But his subsequent studio album stands among his very best work — an anthology of ten very different songs that nevertheless cohere around Simon’s underlying theme: a growing concern that, at the age of 34, he had passed his creative peak, couldn’t successfully settle in a relationship, and had tied himself into decisions that he might now make differently.
As I write this at age 48, Simon has just released Stranger to Stranger at age 74. The idea that he was once 34 seems impossibly distant; and the idea that he could have worried then about being past his prime nothing short of absurd. Yet that concern, treated in Simon’s distinctively whimsical and self-deprecatory manner, gave rise to a masterpiece.
From the very first bars of the first song on Paul Simon’s second post-Garfunkel solo album, there’s a completely different feel from the previous year’s self-titled album. If I had to pick a single word to summarise how that album feels it would be “weary”; for this album, that word would be “sunny”. [Listen on Grooveshark.]
After the break-up of Simon and Garfunkel, following 1970’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, Art Garfunkel went into acting and schoolteaching for three years before resuming his singing career with a series of solo albums that most have considered rather bland. (That verdict seems supported by my experience of Breakaway (1975), but since that’s the only album of his that I know, I’m not really qualified to offer an opinion on whether it’s generally justified.)
Art Garfunkel (left) and Paul Simon (right), pre-breakup.
But everyone knew that the real talent in S&G lay with S., Mr. Paul Simon — the writer of all their songs, the crafter of what are widely recognised as some of the best lyrics in popular music, and (what is less often realised) an outstanding guitarist. He was always going to continue as a musician, and there was every reason to expect his solo albums to be as good as those he’d recorded with Garfunkel.