Friday, March 9, 2012

Simon & Garfunkel 5: Bridge Over Troubled Water

Another long delay was primed with some singles before Bridge Over Trouble Water finally emerged. Their elegant pop turned more sophisticated, with the addition of a rhythm section and what would soon be called “third world” influences. (It was also their first album to break the 30-minute barrier.)
It’s kind of a depressing album, since the boys weren’t getting along that well, which shows in the lyrics and on the dreary cover. But it’s chock full of hits, many of which would be learned at school, camp and church singalongs. The rest of the album is pretty good too.
The title track is one of the greatest vocal performances not only of the 20th century, but in the history of recorded music. One day Paul Simon will be able to accept that while he created it, it took Art Garfunkel to make it so incredible. Until then, he can sit on it, Potsie. The rest of us can enjoy the stately piano, Art’s clear delivery, and the hint of strings that creep in before the final verse, building with the cracking drums until the sweeping finish. It’s a credit to the sequencing that “El Condor Pasa” trills in on Peruvian instruments, a Latin touch that nicely sets up the hand-clappy singalong of “Cecelia”. “Keep The Customer Satisfied” hearkens back to their rockabilly roots, in a nice allegory for the touring musician. In comparison, “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” is about as pretentious as they can get, even if it is a veiled reference to their own dwindling partnership.
“The Boxer” had been a hit single a good nine months earlier, and a wonderful demonstration of the boys’ close harmonies. Enough scans of the lyrics puts paid to the concept that the song’s supposed to be an unflattering portrait of Bob Dylan; instead we can see the young Paul Simon lashing back against the unscrupulous record company executives who challenged his integrity, forcing him to put out five albums in six years. “Baby Driver” was its flipside, another jaunty throwback to an earlier decade, with inscrutable lyrics. Slightly more direct is “The Only Living Boy In New York”, where Paul admits to actually missing having Artie around. The song is aching and stirring, especially those soaring backing vocals over the end. It’s too bad that “Why Don’t You Write Me” deflates the emotion with a hokey doo-wop throwaway. Their true roots shine on a half-live performance of the Everlys’ “Bye Bye Love”, ending with the gentle benediction in “Song For The Asking”.
Even if they hadn’t planned it that way, nearly all of Bridge Over Trouble Water sounds like a goodbye note. The cover art plays up their differences, and not just in height and hair color. Yet the disparate parts all come together, and as if they knew it would be their final statement—which, to date, it has—they gave it their all. While some of their music may be stuck in the time in which it was created, it’s still an amazing listen. And nobody since sounds like them.

Simon and Garfunkel Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)—4
2001 CD reissue: same as 1970, plus 2 extra tracks
2011 40th Anniversary Edition: same as 1970, plus Live 1969 album and DVD


  1. the tone of your words led me to believe at least a 4 1/2 was coming, if not a 5. is this album sometimes a 5 for you, depending on the day?


  2. No, it's pretty much a 4. "Why Don't You Write Me" keeps it from being a 5, and "Frank Lloyd Wright" still bugs me.