Studio Recordings 1972-2000

When Simon and Garfunkel broke up in 1970, the custody battle was simple. Art Garfunkel got the voice, the cool name, the cool hair and the honor of starring in Sherilyn Fenn's finest film, Boxing Helena. Paul Simon got the songs. This swank nine-disc box sums up his career as America's favorite poet of New York alienation, dabbling stylistically in a variety of Third World and Tin Pan Alley genres. When Simon is off, his approach can sound fussy and self-defeating — he has never really developed a signature rhythm of his own. But when he's on — Paul Simon, Still Crazy After All These Years, Graceland — he's an inspired wiseass, doing for Manhattan what Steely Dan did for L.A. His Seventies masterworks still stand out in his career like Phil Rizzuto's 1950 MVP season. The first remains the best: Paul Simon is a blast of city-kid wit and Latin-inflected acoustic grooving, with "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," "Papa Hobo" and "Run That Body Down." On There Goes Rhymin' Simon (1973), he's the bouncy popsmith of "Kodachrome." On Still Crazy (1975), his second-best album, he's a gloomy poet with a weakness for fluffy jazz-lite keyboards, but he atones for all the electric-piano schlock with his funniest, nastiest urban romances, especially "You're Kind," "Have a Good Time" and "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover." Best line: "You're so good/You introduced me to your neighborhood." Around this time, he also appeared in Annie Hall, reportedly because Woody Allen wanted to lose the girl to a shorter guy.Simon floundered for a few years with the clock-watching soundtrack to his 1980 film One-Trick Pony. But he found his feet with the 1983 album Hearts and Bones, inspired by his brief showbiz marriage to Carrie Fisher. Totally ignored at the time, forgotten now, it's a hidden gem. It also introduced the tart songwriting style that paid off on Graceland, his hit collaboration with South African musicians. The Rhythm of the Saints tried to redo Graceland, except with Brazilian drummers and weak songs. Since then, he has revisited the studio for minor efforts such as You're the One and Songs From the Capeman, a failed spinoff from his flop Broadway musical. The Studio Recordings augments each individual album with bonus tracks, mostly demos and work tapes — Simon has never been prolific enough to leave finished songs off his albums. But the rarities are prime, especially the 1971 demo of "Me and Julio," featuring an alternate third verse, and the gorgeous "Let Me Live in Your City."