Paul Simon possesses an uncanny ability to take some of the heaviest lyrical content and themes and make them sound light and inviting in his music. In “The Afterlife,” the first single from his 12th solo album, “So Beautiful or So What,” Simon paints a picture of heaven like it’s an exclusive athletic club, where one must fill out a form and wait in the line. “After you climb up the ladder of time The Lord God is near/face-to-face in the vastness of space your words disappear,” Simon sings on top of shimmering rhythm guitar, staccato electric riffs and a syncopated beat.
Questions and concerns about life are a constant on the album – not a surprise with Simon being 69 years old – but the feeling is light throughout. “Dazzling Blue” feels like lying on a cloud, a mix of folk and Indian percussion with dobro and fiddle adding an earthy element.
“Rewrite” rolls along to a percussive guitar riff with beautiful flourishes of kora harp entwined in the melody. The song tells the story of a Vietnam veteran working at a car wash, with Simon singing, “I’ve been working on my rewrite, that’s right/I’m gonna change the ending, gonna throw away my title, and toss it in the trash.”
“Love is eternal sacred light, free from the shackles of time,” Simon coos over a stomping beat on the heavy, blues-charged “Love Is Eternal Sacred Light.” Wailing electric guitar riffs mirror his vocals, with bits of blues harmonica thrown in.
Simon keeps the album short and to the point with 10 songs spanning 28 minutes. The musical elements lifted from so many places in the world meld nicely, and keep the album loose and fluid from track to track. Simon has certainly put together one of his finest pieces of work with “So Beautiful or So What.”