Working with Brian Eno a decade ago seems to have liberated Paul Simon from staid singer-songwriter respectability, because his recent albums have been the most sonically and rhythmically adventurous of his 50-year career.
Stranger To Stranger features inspired collaborations with a flamenco backing band, an Italian techno producer and the antique steampunk instrument collection of early 20th-century avant-garde composer Harry Partch. The results are mostly magical, largely because these songs still sound like Simon at his wry and melodic best. ‘Most obits are mixed reviews,’ he quips on The Werewolf, an artfully sloppy shuffle-blues meditation on mortality: ‘Life is a lottery, a lot of people lose.’
On Cool Papa Bell, he muses mischievously on the word ‘motherfucker’ over parping brass and sinewy Afro-funk. And closing track The Insomniac’s Lullaby is a sublime ambient waltz in which Simon’s conversational chatter builds to a warm falsetto sigh.
Airy and luminous, these delicately deconstructed songs never settle into straight arrangements but shimmer with bells, drones, loops, glitches and supple jazzy textures.
Wearing its experimentalism lightly, Stranger To Stranger finds the 74-year-old Simon boldly planting his flag in the avant-rock soundworld of Radiohead or Four Tet, a master craftsman who knows the rules so well that he can now effortlessly break them in playful and surprising ways.