Paul Simon – Still Crazy After All These Years
By Tyler Mandell | Top Tracks: My Little Town, 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, Gone At Last
Still Crazy After All These Years, Paul Simon’s third solo album, has always been a bit frustrating for me to listen to. It’s a good album overall, with some of Simon’s best work but falls short of being something truly great. It’s unique in his discography for its bleak tone and mood, being written after his divorce and contains some of his most dark and bitter lyrics. It’s also interesting musically, expanding on the 50s and 60s R&B sounds of There Goes Rhymin’ Simon into something more in tune with 70s smooth soul and jazz fusion. It’s easy to compare it to Joni Mitchell’s jazzier albums or even Stevie Wonder’s work. Some may find it a bit derivative of its era, but it still sounds wonderful.
The songs themselves are hit or miss, especially towards the second half of the album. When it’s good, it’s incredible: the opener and title track is one of the best songs ever made. It’s so beautiful and heartbreaking, capturing Simon’s loneliness and misery perfectly, with wonderful strings, flutes, and horn section (that sax solo!). Yet perhaps it’s too good, possibly heightening one’s expectations for the album too much. The second song, My Little Town, is also fantastic. It reunites Simon with Art Garfunkel, and their perfect vocal harmonies here reinforce their image as legends in music. It also showcases how good Paul Simon is at mixing pleasant, happy instrumentals with dark lyrics.
My third favorite song here is Gone at Last, another duet though this time featuring Phoebe Snow and backed by a gospel chorus. It’s a lot of fun, mixing upbeat rock n’ roll and gospel into an enjoyable and toe-tapping track. The gospel piano playing by Richard Tee is also a highlight and really drives the song. There’s also Simon’s biggest hit in his solo career, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, and it’s such a polarizing song to me. Not to say I don’t understand why it was such a big hit: it’s catchy, quirky, easy to dance to, and has wonderful rhythmic drumming courtesy of Steve Gadd. Yet the lyrics during the chorus are *so* cheesy and don’t mesh at all with the more contemplative verses. But the song works despite itself due to its dorky charm and silliness that makes it impossible not to smile when listening to it.
The main issue with Still Crazy as an album is that too many of the songs feel dashed off or uninspired, or just don’t add to the main themes of the album in a cohesive way. A lot of the tracks here deal with Paul Simon’s past relationships, his self-worth, and his image, but very few of them really add up to anything truly meaningful. The topics of the songs jump around a bit too much, from his previous marriage (I Do It for Your Love, You’re Kind), his privilege (Some Folks’ Lives Roll Easy), his Jewish faith (Silent Eyes), and even nondescript songs that seem added simply for atmosphere (Night Game). This wouldn’t be a problem if all of these were good songs, but some of them lack good payoff or even memorable qualities to make them worthwhile.
This goes back to what I said about the title track being too good for the rest of the album to live up to, especially when the record fails to wrap up in a way that’s satisfying and poignant. Every song here sounds beautiful, and it might just be Simon’s best production work, but it just makes the potential of some of the songs feel more unfulfilling. I’d still recommend it to fans of Paul Simon’s work, as the weakest songs are only decent at worst and several tracks here are worth checking out. Still, it should be much better than it is.
On the other hand, it won Album of the Year at the 1975 Grammys, so what do I really know?