It has been five years since Paul Simon released his last album, but he has not even begun to think of retirement. At 69, Simon's career is expansive, encompassing 12 albums, including his latest, So Beautiful or So What, which has been described as, “his best album since 1990's. The Rhythm of the Saints sums up much of what makes Simon great," by Rolling Stone.
Using a variety of instruments and his own preference for vintage-styled sound, Simon has produced an album that is more about art, and less about studio sound. Even as numerous samples were included on the album, a first for Simon, there are also several opportunities to hear bells, chimes, the call of a wildebeest and djembe drumming as well as spoken word and classical instrumentation.
Lyrically speaking, So Beautiful or So What encourages its listeners to go beyond the typical heartbreak and dance themes played on the radio today, and think about more esoteric and spiritual matters. These thought-provoking statements and characterizations of people within the songs bring fans, old and new, back to the days when music was less about auto-tuning and bass beats, and more about the cultural importance of its message.
The overall atmosphere of the album is a complex, melodic and comforting mix of sound that combines folk, rock, and world instruments with sounds of nature, classical strings and the voice of Paul Simon. This album, however, is not just a way to revisit Simon’s roots, but a culmination of the toe-tapping rhythms and lyrics Simon may be best known for, with the addition of a mature sound landscape that touches the hearts and heritage of cultures the world over.
For the fan of the djembe or other native instrumentation, the incorporation of these sounds within a mainstream album may help inspire the fusion of different styles of music typically overlooked today. For Paul Simon, the challenge of keeping his music fresh and still true to his own artistic sense may have just begun, but with the release of So Beautiful or So What, Simon proves that he is indeed up to that challenge.