Simon & Garfunkel’s fifth and final studio album, Bridge Over Troubled Water is widely considered to be their masterpiece: Rolling Stone picked it as the 51st greatest album of all-time, and AllMusic.com rewarded it with a five-star review. And yet, I can’t help feeling a little bored when the needle hits this album. Let’s investigate…
THUMBS UP: Simon & Garfunkel’s harmonic folk-rock was a big part of the soundtrack of the sixties. Not all of their material has aged well, but brilliant songwriting never goes out of style, and Paul Simon is one of the best in the business. ‘The Boxer’ is one of the finest character portraits to be found in song – a haunting take on a lonely profession. When Simon sings “Still, a man hears what he wants to hear/And disregards the rest” he gets as close to Tao/existential wisdom as any 60s rocker ever did. ‘Cecilia’ is a great tune, and certainly one of the catchiest songs ever written about heartbreak and infidelity. This was the duo’s last album together before Simon split for a wildly successful solo career, and because it was released in 1970, it’s one of the albums that have come to represent the closing of the sixties. But with or without that subtext, it’s well worth the $1 that I paid for it.
THUMBS DOWN: Bridge Over Troubled Water is a fine album, on balance. The title track, however, is the ‘You Light Up My Life‘ of the 60s – a cloying ballad that was massively successful in its time, but now has the power to drive men mad. ‘Baby Driver’ sounds like a parody of Simon & Garfunkel, and for every undeniable highlight here there’s a puzzler like their head-scratching cover of ‘Bye Bye Love’. Yawns will be stifled during ‘A Song For The Asking’, which has to rate as one of the most appropriately titled filler songs of all-time. But beyond nit-picking individual tunes, the biggest problem with this album can be summed up in four words: Paul Simon’s solo career. Simon continued to grow as a songwriter after he left Garfunkel behind, and consequently his solo albums are more adventurous and interesting than most of the S&G catalog. Why come here when you can go there?
[Calling all Art Garfunkel fans… calling all Art Garfunkel fans…]