Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Far Too Soft And Short, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme Is Not Simon & Garfunkel's Best Work. (My April Artist Of The Month Arrives!)

The Good: Moments of voice, Lyrics
The Bad: Short, Musically dull and underdeveloped
The Basics: Even a general love for Simon And Garfunkel cannot get me to recommend Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme, a short, underperforming album which fails to capitalize on what makes their other works great.

It behooves me to start this review by reaffirming that I like Simon and Garfunkel. I mean, not personally; I don't know Paul Simon or Art Garfunkel. In general, I enjoy the music of the duo Simon and Garfunkel, though. In fact, some years ago, I reviewed their album Bookends (here!) generally favorably. So, as I prepare for my next Artist Of The Month reviews, I was surprised to find that I had not previously reviewed any of their other albums.

In their body of works, though, I have managed to begin my renewed interest and reviews with one of their few albums that do not hold up. The album is Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme. The album is universally slow, smooth and quiet and outside the title track and "Homeward Bound," the album is utterly forgettable. Indeed, this is a tragically boring musical experience one might have thought that when it came time to transfer the album from its analog medium into a compact disc they might have beefed it up with additional tracks or combined it with another album. As it stands, though, it is left on its own and, frankly, it is not enough to earn a recommendation. Not by a long shot.

With twelve tracks, clocking in at 28:19, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme is more or less the works of Simon and Garfunkel. I write "more or less," because while they sing all of the songs on the album, two of the songs ("Scarborough Fair/Canticle" and "7 O'Clock News / Silent Night") were not written by either of the duo. In addition, the album was produced by Bob Johnson. So, while there is clearly quite a bit of the duo in this work, it does not seem like it is an absolute musical vision of Simon And Garfunkel.

That said, they must take the credit for the bulk of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme, as most of it is theirs. The songs range from the traditional and lyrical ("Scarborough Fair / Canticle") to the obvious love song ("For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her") to the contemplative ("Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall"). The thing is, while Simon and Garfunkel usually have wonderful lyrics, on this album some of them fall dramatically flat. In Paul Simon's seemingly desperate attempt to be Bob Dylan, he creates the terrible and jumbled lines, "I been phil spectored, resurrected. / I been lou adlered, barry sadlered. /Well, I paid all the dues I want to pay. / And I learned the truth from lenny bruce, / And all my wealth wont buy me health, / So I smoke a pint of tea a day" ("A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara'd Into Submission)"). It is a ridiculous song filled with dated cultural allusions and presented with a bland arrogance that cannot even be described as defiant.

This is not to say that the entire album is a lyrical mess; not by far. Simon's poetics come through quite beautifully on "Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall." There, he writes with classic imagery, "The mirror on my wall / Casts an image dark and small / But I'm not sure at all it's my reflection. / I am blinded by the light / Of God and truth and right / And I wander in the night without direction. / So I'll continue to continue to pretend / My life will never end, / And flowers never bend / With the rainfall" ("Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall"). It is rare to have a song so blatantly and articulately expressing doubt in the divine or questioning the purpose of life in the face of death, but here that is done and it is written quite well.

And there are some truly universal sentiments on Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme, most notably in the longing for family and a place of one's own. This comes through quite truly and beautifully on the energetic "Homeward Bound." When Simon and Garfunkel sing, "Everyday's an endless stream / Of cigarettes and magazines / And each town looks the same to me / The movies and the factories / And every stranger's face I see / Reminds me that I long to be / Homeward bound / I wish I was / Homeward bound" ("Homeward Bound") they express perfectly a sentiment known to anyone who has traveled for business. They are incredibly well-written lyrics on that track and it is easy to see why Paul Simon is considered so gifted.

Sadly, the net result of the lyrics is still that they fall a bit flat. They use some fairly obvious rhymes over the course of the album and while they have decent themes (antiwar, pro-family, in favor of love) they are not as developed as they could be. Considering that the average track on the album is right around two minutes long, this is not a surprise.

The various ditties on Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme are presented quite clearly by Simon and Garfunkel and their vocals are clear and crisp throughout the album. Sadly, the effect of the smooth voices is more narcolepcy-inspiring than truly beautiful. The guys can sing; they can also put their audience to sleep. The safe, mid to high range vocals Simon And Garfunkel present are almost completely dull. They vary little in terms of tone and tempo and while some may find it admirable, on such a short album it seems limited and boring to me.

Similarly, the instrumentals are simply the two men and their guitars. That is not entirely true. For this album there is a silent partner brought in to . . . play guitar. Yes, in a duo of two men playing only guitars, what they felt they needed was another guitar. Drums would have been nice, a piano could have shaken things up, a saxophone or bassoon or even a bass might have saved "The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine" from the disappointing sound it ends up having.

In other words, this is a shockingly limited album musically. It sounds like precisely what it is: two guys and their guitars. It could be so much more, but on this album they never pop into something greater. For all of the potential, Simon and Garfunkel fall flat on this one.

And I acknowledge that the spirit of experimentalism is alive and well for the boys with "7 O'Clock News / Silent Night," but just because they try something different does not mean it works. The idea of putting "Silent Night" with a sound clip of a news segment on the Vietnam war is not a bad one, but the execution here seems more jumbled than musical.

And as unfortunate as that is, that is how I find Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme, one of the few Simon And Garfunkel albums I'll put up on the shelf, knowing I won't pick it back up again. Ever.

The best track is "Homeward Bound," the low point is "The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine."

For other former Artist Of The Month reviews, please check out:
That’s Why I’m Here - James Taylor
Aladdin Sane - David Bowie
American Industrial Ballads Boxed Set - Pete Seeger


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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