Paul Simon’s latest work, Surprise, is a bold step into new sonic territory that finds Simon teamed with Brian Eno, whose modern sonic textures give a very modern and experimental feel. And unlike Simon’s earlier foray into modern sounds (1983’s Hearts And Bones), this works much more effectively, complementing Simon’s trademark lyric storytelling and imagery.
On a whole, this is another crafty retooling of the Paul Simon sound. Itâ€™s perhaps the most electronically-processed album Simon has done – and thatâ€™s not a bad thing, at all, so long as the sound meshes well with Simonâ€™s sound. And to these ears, it works – though itâ€™ll be jarring to the world-beat and folk faithful who long for Simon to keep hitting the same chord as he did in the 1970s and 1980s. This is not the same Simon sound as There Goes Rhymin’ Simon or Graceland.
In a way, I see the matching of Simon and Brian Eno as something akin to Paul McCartneyâ€™s recent work with David Kahne and Nigel Godrich: working with a younger and/or more â€œout thereâ€ producer who will push the envelope.
Overall, the sonic tapestry is much more lush and varied under Enoâ€™s watch. If anything, this may be the most atmospheric Simon work, on a par with Rhythm and Simon & Garfunkelâ€™s Bridge Over Troubled Water in terms of depth of musical textures. And lyrically, there are many small story arcs that continue between songs, something that Simon hasn’t done since the early 1980s, save for his musical, The Capeman.
It’s a fun album – let’s look at it track-by-track: