Friday, February 24, 2012

Simon & Garfunkel 4: Bookends

After only three albums, the duo had somehow managed to circumvent the usual demands made on recording artists of the time. Rather than constantly pushing out product, they were able to take their sweet time between albums. A few well-spaced singles kept fans interested in the meantime. By the time Bookends came out, eighteen months since their last album, it was technically competing with their music on the soundtrack to The Graduate (which often gets included in official discographies, but outside of a few alternate takes, it’s not really a Simon & Garfunkel album but a Dave Grusin project).
Now that it was standard for artists of their stature, the lyrics (many of which didn’t seem to bother to rhyme) were printed in full on the back cover. Side one attempts to be something of a concept, portraying the modern journey from youth to old age, but it moves much to fast to really register. The lovely piece called “Bookends Theme” exists long enough to linger before “Save The Life Of My Child” blares in. The arrangement favors sound effects and atmosphere over musicality, but once you hear the snatch of “The Sound Of Silence” in the middle, good luck ignoring it. The piece is very evocative of a film or TV news report. Apparently the boy makes it off the ledge in time to get on a bus and travel across “America”, full of highway imagery and observation. But apparently “Kathy” wasn’t enough to keep his interest, so he lights a cigarette and considers dumping her in “Overs”. Art’s compilation of “Voices Of Old People” comes off as a long commercial break, until you realize that the words could just as well have come from people that age today as in 1967. The image of the elderly is more delicately if less harrowingly portrayed in “Old Friends”, which would become an unwitting theme song for the duo. After an overwrought string section the “Bookends Theme” returns, this time with a verse, and it’s lovely.
Maybe they knew they were taking too long, because side two ignores any concept outside of collecting the singles that had been released since the last album. As a result, “At The Zoo” is anticlimactic. “Fakin’ It” begins with a blast not unlike a bagpipe over heavy drums, traveling through some vague verses and an infectious chorus before a trip to a previous life and fading on the same drone. “Punky’s Dilemma” was previewed in their Monterey Pop set, with Paul Simon apparently so gonged on weed that he adopted an English accent. We still don’t know what the hell the song is about, nor why Barbra Streisand would eventually cover it. (Then again, it’s no worse than her version of “Life On Mars”.) “Mrs. Robinson” certainly helped sell the album, and once again we must remind people that while “I Am The Walrus” says “goo goo g’joob”, this song says “koo koo ka-choo”; there’s a difference, so please don’t confuse them. “A Hazy Shade Of Winter” sports a lively baroque arrangement and a killer riff, ending on a breathless pant.
Bookends will likely cause arguments over whether the whole is greater than the parts or vice versa. Certainly side one works as a suite, though “America” and “Overs” certainly shine on their own. The singles on side two all stood alone originally anyway. An interesting exercise might be to rearrange the album so the “ages of man” concept runs throughout, like this:
         Bookends Theme – At The Zoo – Punky’s Dilemma – Save The Life Of My Child – America –
         Mrs. Robinson – Overs – Fakin’ It – A Hazy Shade Of Winter – Voices Of Old People – Old
         Friends – Bookends Theme
It could work. Couldn’t it?

Simon & Garfunkel Bookends (1968)—
2001 CD reissue: same as 1968, plus 2 extra tracks

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