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(Warner Brothers) "Mature," "tasteful," "polished"--not the most exciting accolades with which to praise a pop musician, I'll admit. Yet it's Paul Simon's gift to turn moderation into a virtue. As a solo artist he's recorded quietly charming music that's soothing without being dull. His talents have grown over the years, and One-Trick Pony, his first all-new LP since 1975, is evidence of his sure touch.
As befits the score for an upcoming film, One-Trick Pony has a consistent musical mood, sustained by a glossy studio sound which refines Fifties rock and r&b styles into a sophisticated whole. While Richard Tee's shimmering electric piano is overused and Tony Levin's bass lines are muddy at times, the overall sound mix is lovely, highlighting Simon's understated vocal manner to good effect. The basic tune-writing is strong--"Nobody" gently rocks to one of the prettiest melodies I've heard in ages. Simon put a lot of care into the composing, arranging and recording of this album, and it shows.
If craftsmanship were the LP's only virtue, it would be a superior record. But Simon has too much poetry in him to let arranging skill carry his songs alone. Offbeat, ambiguous images pop up in "That's Why God Made the Movies," "Oh, Marion" and "God Bless the Absentee," adding color to the vaguely melancholy feel of the verses. Simon has his occasional missteps--"How the Heart Approaches What It Yearns" is an awkward hook line no matter how cleverly it scans. But the album is more than redeemed by compelling lines like "Who was the witness to the dream/Who kissed my eyes and saw the scream...Nobody."
One-Trick Pony's theme is of an aging rock star trying to cope with his confused lifestyle. In Simon's own case, though, he's playing the role of pop elder statesman quite well. He's a genuine rarity: a veteran singer/songwriter who's developed rather than burned out.
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