The Good: Great voices, Decent lyrics, Interesting musical variety.
The Bad: Short, seriously short.
The Basics: Brought down slightly by its lack of duration, Bridge Over Troubled Water is largely an enduring and wonderful folk-rock album worthy of anyone's time and attention.
As a record, I could conceivably make an argument for Simon And Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water to be a perfect album. Right off the bat, I'll say that because I am going to be bucking the trend of reviews of this item to give it a four-star rating and there is a simple, honest and consistent with my standards reason for rating it this way; it's too short for a compact disc. It is a poor use of the medium to not use even half the space of a c.d., regardless of when the album was made. So, were this 1970 and were I reviewing the record or tape recording of Bridge Over Troubled Water, I probably would boost this as a perfect recording.
But it is not. This is the compact disc reissue of Bridge Over Troubled Water and after eleven listens (I'm beginning number twelve while I write this), the predominant impression the disc leaves me with is that it is short. It is short and by the time one gets into it and enthusiastic about it, it is over. Done. This leaves the compact disc listening audience unsatisfied and wanting more. This album might be discounted, but regardless of the price, the medium has capacity and Columbia should have started the c.d. release as a dual-album, single disc release (something that they are just now doing, in fact!).
That said, it is hard to find much to complain about with Bridge Over Troubled Water. With eleven tracks clocking in at 37:28, Bridge Over Troubled Water represents the final full collaboration of original material between the legendary Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. For sure, it was impressive to see them together in the first season of Saturday Night Live, even though I was not alive during their heyday, but this album is closing of the curtain for the duo and it is an impressive outing. And largely this is the musical vision of Simon And Garfunkel (though with the sparse liner notes, it is tough to see just what Garfunkel did other than show up and sing). Paul Simon wrote or translated all of the songs, save "Bye Bye Love," and he plays guitar as well as sings on the tracks as well. Garfunkel sings but is not credited with any instrumentals. Both Simon and Garfunkel are credited as co-producers for the album, so it is hard to argue that this is not the album they wanted to release.
And with songs like the title track, who would even want to make that argument? “Bridge Over Troubled Water” may well be one of the top five Classic Folk-rock tracks of all time (put it up against Gordon Lightfoot's "Sundown" and Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind" and you've got a Folk Fight!). How could it not be? With lines like, "When you're down and out, / When you're on the street, / When evening falls so hard / I will comfort you. / I'll take your part / When darkness comes / And pain is all around, / Like a bridge over troubled water / I will lay me down" (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”) it expresses a universal sentiment with a tune and tone that goes from heartfelt to anthemic. This is the soaring support song of all time, easily evoking the passion of wanting to help another without ever seeming pushy or even possible to misinterpret. It is a perfect song and it starts with the simple poetry of Paul Simon, who reveals an incredible heart and soul on this track.
It is almost anticlimactic, then, to follow up with the rest of the album. Starting off with one of the greatest tracks of all time, makes it hard to make the rest of the album stand up. Perhaps that is why the duo immediately switched it up with the much more quiet "El Condor Pasa" and then the much more pop "Cecilia." But despite the inherent and obvious greatness of the title track, I kept finding myself returning to "Keep The Customer Satisfied" on this latest series of spins of the album. Often neglected, "Keep The Customer Satisfied" is a clever pop-rock song about the value of returning home after long periods of misunderstanding. Or it's a song about a gigolo, depending on one's perspective. Seriously, this song rivals many other Paul Simon works on the lyrics, with the refrain of "It's the same old story / Everywhere I go, / I get slandered, / Libeled, / I hear words I never heard / In the Bible, / And I'm one step ahead of the shoe shine, / Two steps away from the county line, / Just trying to keep my customers satisfied / Satisfied" ("Keep The Customer Satisfied").
Lyrically, the album is powerful with musical stories ("The Boxer"), emotional outbursts ("Why Don't You Write Me" is quite possibly the most catchy and subtle song of anger and loneliness), and simple, heartwrenching poetry. The latter is encapsulated perfectly in the album's final track, "Song For The Asking." Short - brutally short - this is one of those songs that reminds the listener how in times past pop-rock and folk-rock artists were not afraid to depress the living hell out of their listeners and be incredibly successful at it. Because, damn, who wouldn't tear up even just reading the lines "This is my tune for the taking / Take it, don't turn away / I've been waiting all my life / Thinking it over, I've been sad / Thinking it over, I'd be more than glad / To change my ways for the asking / Ask me and I will play / All the love that I hold inside" ("Song For The Asking"). Combine those lyrics with the soft, smooth vocals of Simon and Garfunkel and you've got a musical tear-jerker!
Bridge Over Troubled Water holds up because all eleven of the songs - even the musical stories - say something universal and compelling, something that is often lacking from the legions of pop-rock, over produced performers in today's marketplace. In other words, these guys had talent and it explodes forth from the first note to the final applause (the last two tracks were recorded live).
Vocally, Bridge Over Troubled Water might not be the most compelling album of all time, but it does seem to be the Simon And Garfunkel album where Art and Paul harmonize with one another the best. Moreover, their voices dominate the album above the instrumentals and the vocals become instruments of their own. They have smooth, mid-range vocals and on this album rather than try to stretch outside that range, they seek instead to completely master that range and they hit every note on the head, with complete clarity for the lyrics. It is hard to ask for more than that!
Instrumentally, the duo makes incredible use out of guitars, bass and drums to create an impressive diversity of instrumental sound. For sure, on some tracks like “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, they add keyboards and additional strings and on "Baby Driver" there are produced sounds of motorcycles, but for the most part, the instrumentals are very limited in terms of type and number of instruments. But songs like "The Only Living Boy In New York" and "Cecilia" have a musical richness to them that make them seem like much more than simple guitar, drum, and bass tracks and they work.
Moreover, the album Bridge Over Troubled Water works because the instrumental and vocal diversity is so strong and tight. And there are actual melodies, another thing often lacking from today's popular music. And that leads us back to the problem; what is here on the disc is so good, it is impossible to not want more from this talented duo. And instead, we just get an ending.
The best track is “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and there is no truly bad track, though I found "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright" to be less impressive than most of the others.
For other Simon & Garfunkel albums, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, And Thyme
Sounds Of Silence
For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the music reviews I have written!
© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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