Paul Simon, among the leading singer-songwriters of his or any era, sells God-knows-how-many records as part of a celebrated duo, then breaks up the partnership at the height of their popularity. He releases a series of acclaimed solo efforts before lapsing into a decade-long creative drought. Finally, at a professional nadir, he stumbles into world music and records Graceland, the triumphant album that restores his critical and commercial fortunes. His position in the pantheon now secure, he gains the freedom to spend the remainder of his career releasing derivative works and reliving former glories.
At least that’s how the story goes. Like all received narratives, it oversimplifies the tale for dramatic effect. But whatever the precise circumstances of its composition, Graceland stands out as a remarkable effort by a man with no shortage of credits to his name. The opening bars of the first track, the goth-funk-zydeco opus “The Boy In the Bubble,” stun you with the realization of just how far Mr. Simon has come since “Mrs. Robinson” – yet with his pop sensibility firmly intact. That song may or may not be the best on the album, but it serves well to introduce the listener to its eclectic wonders. I also love the incomprehensible but irresistible “You Can Call Me Al.” My wife prefers “Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes.” With Graceland, Simon proved once and for all that he was better of without Garfunkel. 26 years later, it’s still his best – or at least my favorite of his – work.