Monday, April 9, 2012

Incredible And Memorable Is What We Get When Simon & Garfunkel Revel In Sounds Of Silence!

The Good: Excellent lyrics, Good tone, Music, Vocals
The Bad: SHORT!
The Basics: Despite its short duration, Sounds Of Silence holds up as a classic pop-rock album of poetry set to music through great voices!

Every now and then, I encounter an album that surprises me for just how thematically unified it is. So, for example, Heather Nova's album Redbird is all about healing and moving on. It is a brilliant album and it is beautifully written, but those who dislike such things might consider it a concept album based on its thematic unity. I feel no such prejudice against concept albums and as a result, I love the disc. Similarly, the depressing tone and the number of suicides (two explicit) on Sounds Of Silence could turn some people off, but it endures as a pretty great album in my book.

Sounds Of Silence is a pretty classic album by Simon & Garfunkel and, as the title suggests, it contains the hit song "The Sounds Of Silence." It is a melancholy, well-written album that legitimately exploded the influence of Simon & Garfunkel on the pop-rock and folk rock circuits when it was released in 1966. It remains one of the strongest sophomore albums of all time and it would certainly be even higher rated by me if only it were longer. Now, I understand that when it was originally released on record and audio cassette, there were certain limitations in terms of duration. However, compact discs can hold quite a bit more and an album this short does not make good use of the medium on its own. It ought to have been combined with another Simon & Garfunkel album when it was pressed onto c.d.

With only eleven tracks, clocking in at an anemic 29:20, Sounds Of Silence is very much the work of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. Simon wrote all of the tracks, save "Anji" and both performers play their own instruments on the album. While it was produced by neither Simon nor Garfunkel, it does seem like it is legitimately the musical vision of Simon and Garfunkel.

And what an impressive vision that is! Simon & Garfunkel start with impressive lyrics and advance their poetry into truly wonderful songs with their smooth, direct vocals. They are easy to listen to, they have a message and while they might seem a little limited by being two guys with guitars, on Sounds Of Silence, the have a little bit of backup and production in order to fill out their sound a bit better.

In some ways, it is hard to see why they would need to fill out their sound. After all, with poetic lines like, "In restless dreams I walked alone / Narrow streets of cobblestone, / 'neath the halo of a street lamp, / I turned my collar to the cold and damp / When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of / A neon light / That split the night / And touched the sound of silence," (“The Sounds Of Silence”), who truly needs enhancing? Simon writes lyrics that are stark and beautiful, intense and full of imagery. Songs like "The Sounds Of Silence" resonate even today because they capture a feeling of solitude and alienation that almost everyone has experienced at one time or another.

Of course, one hopes that most people have not felt quite so isolated as the musical protagonists in "Richard Cory" and "A Most Peculiar Man." Both songs involve subjects who kill themselves, Cory because his riches make him miserable and the other for mysterious reasons. Simon manages to make musical the sense of living in a complex with gossips when he sings, "He was a most peculiar man. / That's what Mrs. Riordan said and she should know; / She lived upstairs from him / She said he was a most peculiar man. . . . He lived all alone within a house, / Within a room, within himself, / A most peculiar man. / He had no friends, he seldom spoke / And no one in turn ever spoke to him, / 'cause he wasn't friendly and he didn't care / And he wasn't like them" ("A Most Peculiar Man"). Simon has a great musical voice in his writing that makes him a wonderful musical storyteller. Indeed, "A Most Peculiar Man" and "Richard Cory," despite their depressing themes, tell fully developed stories for the listener.

And despite the two tracks with suicides being back to back, this is not a thematically dull album, though alienation is a common theme on it. There are songs of longing ("April She Will Come"), the relationship of time and nature ("Leaves That Are Green"), and the defiant anthem of the Man ("I Am A Rock"). There is also a silly pop love song ("We've Got A Groovey Thing Goin'") which seems a little dated, but enjoyable. And Simon & Garfunkel pull off a perfectly good fleeing song with "Somewhere They Can't Find Me."

The magic of much of Sounds Of Silence is in the simplicity of Simon's observations set to music. He sings about aging and its effects, a subject very few people ever try to tack in pop-rock music. Or rather, there are few who can tackle it without sounding schmaltzy. Simon avoids that with his lines, "I threw a pebble in a brook / And watched the ripples run away / And they never made a sound. / And the leaves that are green turned to brown, / And they wither with the wind, / And they crumble in your hand" ("Leaves That Are Green"). Those lines alone could easily sell the album, especially when compared to the lines of what passes for popular music these days!

Of course, the album could not endure for as long as it has on the strength of the lyrics along. Simon's lyrics are put to Garfunkel's angelic voice and when Simon & Garfunkel harmonize, it truly is a musically amazing thing. It is hard to imagine that two men and their guitars could create something so beautiful out of something so simple. Yet, they do it.

Sounds Of Silence remains such a powerful album because the harmonies resonate with a quality that is timeless. They accent the guitars in a way that exceeds simple production; these men have talent and it is evident from their first notes. Moreover, the pair is able to articulate sometimes complex lines. That they sing with perfect clarity as well as tone enhances the way the music continues to resonate through the decades.

And truly, all that one could wish for from two men and their guitars is that there was more of their work. Rumor is there is a new bundle coming out that will rectify that problem and when that comes out . . . we'll see if it lives up to the expectations. What is here is truly excellent, there just isn't enough for this medium. It's like getting too small a portion in a restaurant and Sounds Of Silence leaves the listener wanting more.

The best track is either the title track or "A Most Peculiar Man." The instrumental "Anji" left almost no impression on me, making it the weak link.

For other Simon & Garfunkel or classic pop albums, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, And Thyme
Album 1700 - Peter, Paul And Mary


See how this album stacks up against others and read their reviews by visiting my Music Review Index Page where the reviews are organized by the quality of the album or single!

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