http://assets-s3.rollingstone.com/assets/images/album_review/b8a2261898b88df70a59a95197ce859f2708d8a6.jpg Surprise

Paul Simon


Warner Bros.
Rolling Stone: star rating
Community: star rating
5 3.5 0
May 2, 2006

Six years ago — after more than a decade of conceptual forays into South African mbqanga, Brazilian folk music and show tunes — Paul Simon released You're the One, a pretty, relatively straight singer-songwriter album spiked with doses of jazzy patter and modest orchestrations. Surprise plays like a sister record to You're the One, with one key difference: production help from Brian Eno, who pioneered ambient rock in the Seventies before twiddling knobs for U2 and Talking Heads.

Eno outfits some of Simon's most elegant songs yet with spacey accouterments, ranging from the shimmery atmospherics of "That's Me" to the buzzy electro-folk groove of "Another Galaxy." Despite the album's shiny surface, Simon sounds like Simon. Over the spry percussion and electronics-specked Bo Diddley groove of "Sure Don't Feel Like Love," he drops self-conscious barbs with the same pained wiseass spirit that made him poet laureate of New York alienation in the early Seventies. Much of the time, though, he sticks to tender ruminations on time and tide, pledging eternal love to his little girl on "Fathers and Daughters" and working up a gospel-tinged elegy for conflict-ravaged families on "Wartime Prayers."

Surprise's mellow introspection ends up just being sleepy on slow burners like "I Don't Believe." But "Outrageous" slides easily between hard-edged and pretty, with Simon dissing big corporations in the voice of an aging striver who does "900 sit-ups a day," then asking, "Who's gonna love you when your looks are gone?" The answer: God, whom Simon praises over a sparkling pastoral groove that almost keeps you from wishing the Eno-Simon collaboration had happened thirty years ago.

Album Review Main Next


Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...


Sort by:
    Read More
    Around the Web
    Powered By ZergNet
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.


    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories

    “American Girl”

    Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | 1976

    It turns out that a single with "American" in its title--recorded on the Fourth of July during the nation's Bicentennial, no less--can actually sell better in Britain. Coupled with the Heartbreakers' flair for Byrds jangle and Animals hooks, though, is Tom Petty's native-Florida drawl that keeps this classic grounded at home. Petty dispelled rumors that the song was about a suicidal student, explaining that the inspiration came from when he was 25 and used to salute the highway traffic outside his apartment window. "It sounded like the ocean to me," he recalled. "That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by."

    More Song Stories entries »