By Amanda Wicks
Paul Simon’s 13th solo studio album Stranger to Stranger arrives today (June 3), five years after his last effort So Beautiful Or So What. The album is chock full of philosophical musings, almost as if Simon has arrived at an unknown juncture in life and isn’t sure what to make of things. If that sounds like it would yield gloomy fare, Simon instead keeps things playful thanks to his collaboration with Italian EDM artist Clap! Clap! Here are the five best songs from Stranger to Stranger.
In which Simon steps outside the backstage door for a cigarette, and accidentally gets locked out of his own show. When he tries to get back in, the bouncer notes that he doesn’t have the proper wristband for re-entry. “Wristband, my man/ You got to have a wristband/ If you don’t have a wristband, my man/ You don’t get through the door,” Simon sings on the chorus. With an upright bass leading the song’s front-and-center rhythm section, “Wristband” is less about melody and more about lively beat. his cadence matching the song’s funky feel.
Simon has always been a curious songwriter, one comfortable with exploring different rhythms and melodies than he grew up playing. “The Riverbank” contains an underlying tribal rhythm that picks up on some of his earlier work, but moody synths and later melancholy strings overlay that driving force. Simon’s clever wordplay results in a curious meter that further plays off the song’s overall tempo.
“Stranger to Stranger”
The titular song feels more personal than others on the album. At the same time, however, the way Simon expresses himself feels muted, his voice restrained from revealing too much emotion even while he sings about that very thing. Pulsing synths on the song mark Simon’s venture into EDM, but if that seems like strange territory for longtime fans, a lone trumpet at the halfway mark lends “Stranger to Stranger” a momentary jazzy feel.
“Proof of Love”
“Proof of Love” feels as earnest as Simon’s been in some time. The song’s soundscapes blossom in breathtaking ways, shifting from acoustic guitar to darker moments achieved with deeper timbres. At the heart, however, lies Simon’s striking lyricism which, funnily enough, uses music to look for proof of love when words fail him. At just under 6 minutes, this roving song is a sparkling achievement on several levels.
“Cool Papa Bell”
In an album full of play, the NSFW “Cool Papa Bell” has perhaps the most playful feel of all the songs thanks to the melodic back and forth between a tuba and the rest of the instruments. Then there’s Simon’s lyrics. “But check out my tattoo/ Says ‘wall to wall fun’/ Does everyone know everyone? / Mr. Wall to Wall Fun,” he sings, pondering everything from the nature of bad language to his “new age point of view.”