Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970): Review

bridge

Produced by Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Roy Halee
Label – Columbia

Simon & Garfunkel’s fifth and final studio album is a triumph of ambitious musical diversity that may have flaws, but to this day stands as a considerably epic achievement. This may have been partly due to the pair’s confidence in that they had already delivered timeless folk classics on their previous collections, and there may well have been an inner sense that they needed to push beyond the sonic boundaries of the past and paint a musical picture that enveloped other branches of music. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” uniquely reveals skills that neatly wove gospel, rock, world and reggae with their seamless, uncluttered folk. And yet for all the dextrous genre hopping throughout there is rarely a misstep, because underlying almost every twist and turn is a core of outstanding written compositions that lie at the heart of every experimental journey. Its influence remains over forty years on and paves the way for many folk and mainstream artists to push the boundaries beyond their musical comfort zone.

Probably the biggest single departure for the duo is the pan pipe led South American track “El Condor Pasa (If I Could)”, which would be the springboard for many of Simon’s later escapades. The music is wholly honest to its roots, and not even the amateurish lyrics (“I’d rather be a hammer than a nail”) can detract its exotic intent. From wistful floating one is quickly brought down to earth with the heavily percussion led pop song “Cecilia”, which cleverly combines the story of a less than virtuous young woman with one of the most infectious melodies. “Keep The Customer Satisfied” is a jaunty, horn filled trip to the big band era, borrowing much from “The Graduate” soundtrack album from 2 years before.

Obviously the two most recognisable songs from this collection are the title track and “The Boxer”, which leads off side 2. The latter is a superb traditional folk number; a sad lament about overcoming poverty and loneliness in New York City and perfectly highlights the pair’s harmony vocals. The title track is a dramatic, piano led gospel hymn with a Garfunkel vocal performance which for this listener has never been matched in its intensity and virtuosity. It is of course both uplifting and spiritual as was intended and remains one of the greatest pop performances of the century.

The relationship between the pair was full of emotional complexities that will probably never be fully understood, but in “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” and “The Only Living Boy In New York”, one has an insight into Simon’s feelings towards the longevity of the partnership. Whilst Garfunkel was away filming the black comedy/anti war movie “Catch 22” Simon created two beautifully effortless ballads which in view of the better known songs from this record should never be overlooked. “The Only Living Boy In New York” represents the writer’s loneliness, speaking to Garfunkel in the song as “Tom”, referring to their early days when they were called Tom and Jerry, and encourages him to “let your honesty shine . . . like it shines on me”. “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” compares Garfunkel to the great architect in this weightless drifting tune with a superb flute accompaniment from Bryan Beck.

The juxtaposition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is that although it contains some of Simon & Garfunkel’s greatest and most progressive performances, it feels like a break up recording. There’s a sense of melancholia throughout as the pair chronicle a brilliant career and modestly draw a close on a back catalogue of songs that would reach out to generations of fans.

9/10

Track Listing
1 – Bridge Over Troubled Water 10
2 – El Condor Pasa (If I Could) 8
3 – Cecilia 8
4 – Keep The Customer Satisfied 9
5 – So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright 10
6 – The Boxer 10
7 – Baby Driver 7
8 – The Only Living Boy In New York 10
9 – Why Don’t You Write Me 6
10 – Bye Bye Love 7
11 – Song For The Asking 9

Bridge Over Troubled Water

The Boxer

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