Paul Simon

Surprise (Warner Bros.)

Considering that it's been fifteen years since his last record of consequence, Paul Simon is certainly due for a comeback. With Brian Eno on the knobs and the world at war -- the inspiration for Simon's most acute writing -- the venerable songwriter seems poised to offer this generation's "Sounds of Silence." The closest he comes on Surprise, however, is a pair of mawkish protests ("Wartime Prayers" and "How Can You Live in the Northeast?") that take on middle-aged American guilt instead of the warring world beyond. But even without an anthem, Surprise is loaded with compelling moments that drape Simon's long, effortless melodies over the framework of Eno's mechanical rhythmic constructions. When this recipe goes awry, the two sound as if they're trying to resuscitate fading careers with ProTools and a bongo drum. But when it works, on tunes such as "Another Galaxy" and "That's Me," the emotional wallop of Surprise supplies a long-overdue followup to Simon's best solo work from over a decade ago.
 
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