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

“I am leaving, I am leaving”, but the fighter still remains.

Rating : 10/10

OK, let’s start with a little exercise of imagination. It’s 1969 and you’re a big fan of the famous duo who call themselves Simon & Garfunkel. You’ve already noticed the constant growth in quality that seems to come with each new album, and, because you thought ‘Bookends’ was nearly perfect, your expectations are high. You know what the album should look like, because you’re familiar with the band’s limitations. Their songs usually fall into two big categories : serious, ambitious and strenuous pieces of works, which are most of the time ballads and catchy, funny, cheerful up-beat tunes. Of course, not every slow song they’ve ever written tries to be mighty, just as there are some energetic ones that can be taken seriously, but you get the point. First of all, your ideal album would be one that combines in an efficient way both those types of songs. We all know that too much seriousness can sometimes lead to tediousness or stodginess. And on the other hand, who’d wanna hear an album full of ‘A Simple Desultory Philippic’ – alike compositions? Second of all, there’s gotta be at least one surprise element. Something that doesn’t sound anything like any of their previous work. Something to show the listener that they’re still trying new things, without exceeding their own stable ground. ‘Bookends’ had the experimental ‘Save the Life of my Child’, and well, to be quite honest, their other albums lacked that something. And finally, every one of those songs has to be good. No filler allowed. But that goes without saying.

So, does ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ fulfills your expectations, you pretentious bastard? It definitely does. Oh, boy and how! Let’s start with the so-called surprise element, the song ‘El Condor Pasa (If I Could)’. Why is it different? Well, the melody is actually borrowed from an old, traditional Peruvian folk song and…well, I think that says it all. But does it work as a pop song? Without a doubt. Then you have the title track, which strongly falls into the first category and is a soul-shaking masterpiece. Pay attention to the way the songs builds itself up slowly and carefully : from the piano-only beginning to that ferocious climax near the end with the strings getting louder and louder, Hal Blaine creating that terrifying atmosphere by bashing the cymbals and Art’s voice just reaching to the depths of your soul as he shouts those last lines like there’s no tomorrow. I challenge you to listen to that at the maximum volume and tell me it doesn’t send you shivers down your spine. Then there’s ‘The Boxer’, arguably the second best song on the record. Interesting story, nice bass harmonica touches that sort of intensify the moment and cool drum sound (which apparently were played in front of an elevator) that accompanies the chanted choruses. ‘So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright’ is kind of over-shadowed by the title track when it comes to majestic Art-sung ballads, but it still a nice farewell song in its own right. I especially love the heavenly flute solos. The jolly up-beat songs are another part of the album I really enjoy, even though not everybody does. Whether it’s ‘Cecilia’ and those joyful hand-claps, ‘Keep The Customer Satisfied’ with its satirical lyrics or ‘Baby Driver’, backed-up with silly backing vocals and sound effects and what seems to be one of the most memorable choruses in the history of the band, they are nothing more than what they’re supposed to be : slices of mindless fun. Take them for what they are, and you’ll find yourself enjoying and humming those choruses all day long. But hold on, the surprises aren’t over yet. The acoustic ‘The Only Living Boy In New York’ almost shouts optimism and what about those harmonies during the bridge and the second verse? I almost forgot how good they were at these kind of things. ‘Bye, Bye Love’ is a lively performed tribute to The Everly Brothers, one of the bands that inspired Simon & Garfunkel the most, and even though it can’t stand to the original, it’s still nice to see them do it. ‘Song For The Asking’ may be considered filler by some, but I tend to like this one as well. True, it may be a bit pretentious with the overreaching strings, but it’s still got that cute acoustic melody and it does its job well, that of putting an end to this superb album.

Great songs? Checked. Diversity? Checked again. Lyrics? Fine. Melodies? As catchy as ever. Harmonies? Were they ever sweeter? Simon’s song-writing? At its peak. Garfunkel’s vocal performances? Maybe his best ever. What can you possibly want more? This gets a 10 not only for being the duo’s peak, but also for being one of the finest albums in my collection. Highly recommended. Too bad it was their last.

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4 replies

  1. that album has such atmosphere…even the live everly brothers track seems sort of ghostly… the sequencing of the tracks is very creative too…..they way ‘song for the asking’ sit right beside the lively bye bye love. as an eleven year old it evoked all sorts of sophisticated feelings that i was too young to understand…feelings of city life,and a sense of elegance…if that makes any sense at all… blimey but if a group ever ended on a peak,it was them two chaps. i love frank lloyd,and only living boy…they are the epitome of ‘deep cuts’ on an album.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I definitely understand why it made an impression on you at such an early age. And you’re right about them ending on a peak too – are there any other bands whose last album is also their best?

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      • i honestly can’t think of another…it’s a good question.
        .

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      • Hmmm. The Beatles, maybe? Given that Abbey Road was the last one recorded? Or The Wall, given that The final cut was in fact a Roger Waters solo in all but name? Or the Jimi Hendrix experience? (All right I may be cheating a bit…) The Police? There must be quite a few, mostly due to technicalities (sudden demise, splitting, solo careers etc. ) Because who in his right mind would split after creating a successful masterpiece. For example Eagles had to come up with a made up album after Hotel California to cash in the success, despite the strong tension among the members. On the other hand, some bands or artists that created non-commercial masterpieces, must be easier to find if we knew who they are. 😉

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