Bridge Over Troubled Water was the first Simon & Garfunkel song I ever heard. Soon after that I heard the album of the same name. Can’t really remember how the interest in it came about, but this was at a time of one of my musical awakenings. Perhaps when I was like 17 or 18. Dare say it was off the back of discovering loads of the music that soundtracked the swinging, and not so swinging, 60s (The Doors, Hendrix, Dylan, Love, and all that good stuff). Anyway, I didn’t have any strong feelings about it the first time I heard it and that was something that never changed the couple other times I heard it.
However, I spotted a copy while out on one of my record digs for £2.50 a few months back and, being aware that it’s an album that is highly regarded, I thought “hey! I ought to get this”. It had been sitting in the collection unplayed, though I spotted it a few weeks back when looking out a Sinatra record. All of this suggests that my interest in this one is low, right? I mean, I’d practically forgot I picked it up! While I didn’t feel enthusiastic when I put it on the platter, I figured that I’m a tad older and it was time to revisit this one. Forget what I thought I knew and felt – open ears and an open mind and suchlike.
It starts with that brilliant gospel-soaked title track. Like I say, this was the first Simon & Garfulkel song I had heard and it instantly sunk it’s hooks into me. I guess it was the age I heard it. Those words resonating …
“when you’re weary …
feeling small …
when tears are in your eyes I will dry them all.
I’m on your side when times get rough and friends just can’t be found”.
It’s a really powerful opener and the impact was quite something. Still is, actually. Aside from this one, the most interesting of the material here is the biographical stuff. Y’know, the stuff that documents the break-down of the duo (Bridge Over Troubled Water was, after all, their final album). It’s been said that the cracks began to surface due to conflicting commitments at the time of writing and recording, but still they stuck with it and attempted to provide for their audience (Keep the Customer Satisfied). Given Art’s movie work in LA, Simon worked on much of the record himself while feeling isolated (Side two’s The Boxer, The Only Living Boy in New York and Why Don’t You Write Me?). All of this, of course, can be covered by better writers and interpreters than me.
On this listen the most notable track is So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright. Simon perhaps looking into his crystal ball with lines like these “I’ll remember Frank Lloyd Wright. All of the nights we’d harmonize till dawn. I never laughed so long. So long”. While Frank Lloyd Wright, was an architect, the song is clearly for Art (who had dreams of being an architect and was, I guess, an architect of his own career). It’s also this one that keeps your attention on the album art as you listen. On the front, Simon’s leading the way with that awkward smile, while Garfunkel, face obscured, looks straight ahead. On the back, Simon is seen pushing his head into Garfunkel’s back; perhaps attempting to get him to work … or out the door? (“so long, Artie”)
Elsewhere the album dips in and out. Despite hearing pretty much every panpipe-playing-busking-duo perform El Condor Pasa, the album’s second track is a goody, though side one is also home to one of my least favourite songs ever in Cecelia (not even Suggs could sell it to me). Side two has boasts Baby Driver (urgh) and a fairly pedestrian live version of the Felice and Boudleaux penned Bye Bye Love (on the plus side, it makes me want to listen to the more vibrant take by The Everly Brothers).
I guess knowing the history of Simon & Garfunkel helped to appreciate this one a bit more this time around; however, I still find it a tad pedestrian, rehearsed, and some of Simon’s ‘poor isolated me’ shenanigans wear thin after a while. While I don’t doubt the album’s impact and importance and whatnot, at times it’s just too dull. There, I said it. Not quite a resounding thumbs down, but it’s not one I’ll be revisiting anytime soon.