Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Simon & Garfunkel 2: Sounds Of Silence

Since Dylan had successfully made the leap from acoustic to electric, producer Tom Wilson experimented with a song from the first Simon & Garfunkel album that was getting some airplay. By adding electric guitar, bass and drums to the song in question, all of a sudden the duo had a number-one hit with “The Sound Of Silence”. Which meant it was time to make another album.

Luckily for the new folk-rockers, Simon had been busy busking around London and writing new material (as displayed on his UK-only solo album released that fall, and subsequently mined back in America). So Sounds Of Silence came together in time for the new year, with the hit single version of “The Sound Of Silence” and its B-side, the dated “We’ve Got A Groovey Thing Goin’”, and “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me”, itself a rewrite of the title track of the first album, recorded earlier in the year and initially shelved. There is some further repetition within those; the “Anji” theme is previewed on “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me”, and adds the riff from “Groovey Thing” towards the end. Additionally, Simon seems to have a fixation on suicide: “Richard Cory” (based on a 19th-century poem) shoots himself, while “A Most Peculiar Man” succumbs to self-inflicted natural gas poisoning.

Nitpicking aside, Paul Simon was turning into an excellent songwriter. “Kathy’s Song” is a hypnotic love letter, while “Leaves That Are Green” and “April Come She Will” are stellar in their simplicity. “Blessed” is a little too dissonant for our tastes, but “I Am A Rock”, another hit single, is a catchy and telling in its defiance.

Sounds Of Silence rises past the certain curse of the quick cash-in. Not every tune is a gem, but the homework Paul had done busking in London pays off with excellent songwriting that strays from folk into the type of social commentary that would be his hallmark. (His only contemporary at the time was Ray Davies, whose tongue was much further into his own cheek. Where Simon saw despair and desolation, Davies suggested that a retreat to the old days would solve everything.) It’s also easy to see that the pair, now forced by commerce to work together, had already started to follow their own paths. Some songs are sung by one or the other, and many times Artie’s harmony seems like an afterthought. Because of the rushed nature of the album, the expanded CD from 2001 adds exactly one outtake from the main album sessions (a lovely reading of “Blues Run The Game”), padding the rest with three traditional songs recorded at their very last recording session in 1970.

Simon & Garfunkel Sounds Of Silence (1966)—3
2001 CD reissue: same as 1966, plus 4 extra tracks

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