Monday, February 13, 2012

Simon & Garfunkel 3: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme

Helped along by well-timed singles, Simon & Garfunkel reached a level of excellence on their third album. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme exists in a private world of chamber pop, wherein traditional folk melodies mesh with suburban angst and wry commentary. If there’s anything negative to be said about it, it’s that it’s so short. But there’s a lot of quality crammed into those quickly played songs.
“Scarborough Fair/Canticle” is possibly the most famous version of this old English folk song, already borrowed heavily by Bob Dylan for “Girl From The North Country”. Here the haunting melody is juxtaposed against an original Simon anti-war lyric. “Patterns” interrupts with percussive guitar, insistent bongos and spooky organ, and the music finally lifts on “Cloudy”, despite its uncertain mood. “Homeward Bound” was already a hit single, recorded during the sessions for the second album, a vivid portrait of the lonely modern troubadour that doesn’t seem false in the least. Taking a step away from soul-searching, “The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine” skewers commercialism (such as that which might even sell a few LPs). And “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” was embraced by pot-smokers and pre-schoolers alike, possibly due to Simon’s second use, in a title even, of that archaic word.
“The Dangling Conversation” gets knocked for its pretentious tone, but that’s to be expected from the characters in the song. It’s still a lovely, sad song. The equally well-constructed “Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall” wouldn’t sound out of place on a Monkees album, but it was actually recorded the previous year alongside “Homeward Bound”. A title like “A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d Into Submission)” already sounds like a Dylan parody, which it is. Some of the pop-culture rhymes are very clever, and the impression is so pointed that Simon comes off of as just a little envious of his labelmate. It’s only fitting that this piece is followed by “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her”, an excellent candidate for Art Garfunkel’s greatest performance and an ode to the ultimate imaginary woman. The guitar strums faster and faster to an unresolved end, only to give way to a portrait of a graffitist in “A Poem On The Underground Wall”. And lest anyone get too comfortable, “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” pits a typically harrowing modern news broadcast against a pastoral reading of the Christmas carol.
Its generally down atmosphere notwithstanding, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme is an enticing album, a work of art. Despite the rock combo heard on the songs that require one, the overall sound comes from the voices and acoustic guitar, with the barest embellishments, putting Simon & Garfunkel on a tier all by themselves. They knew they had something special, and the album’s importance in the biz was underscored by Ralph Gleason’s small-print liner notes, which may help illuminate some of the references.

Simon and Garfunkel Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme (1966)—4
2001 CD reissue: same as 1966, plus 2 extra tracks

1 comment:

  1. One of the best albums I know. It hit when I was in college, and it speaks wonderfully to that complicated experience. "For Emily..." can transport you, whether you're a guy (thinking of Emily) or a girl (imagining yourself Emily), into Romance with a capital R. I think "chamber pop," I term I haven't heard before, is a nice place to be. I still have this album. I still play this album. I agree that the only negative is that the LP is too short. Thanks, Wardo.