Eventually, 50 years into a career, all ego and bitterness falls away and an artist’s life’s work stands alone, beaming and burnished.
By slotting Simon & Garfunkel’s most totemic classics alongside his solo material for the first time and modestly ignoring the less celebrated corners of his canon – how many Greatest Hits have to be ruined before self-indulgent rock stars realize we’re not interested in their nil-selling album of Danish jazz George Formby covers? – Paul Simon’s staggering achievement in folk, pop and world music towers supreme.
It’s tough to imagine a more consistently brilliant 19-tracker, even from the small coterie of pop culture giants among whom this album firmly asserts Simon’s place. The Ultimate Collection throws in You Can Call Me Al, Graceland, Mrs Robinson and The Boxer in the first 12 minutes and still holds an utterly captivating hour in reserve.
That the tracklist isn’t chronological prevents it acting as a journal tracing how the casual Greenwich Village reggae of 1972’s Mother And Child Reunion gradually morphed into 1986’s seminal Afrobeat benchmark Graceland, arguably the most accessible world music record ever made, and the sublime Afro-Brazilian batucada pop of The Obvious Child from 1990’s The Rhythm Of The Saints.
But the era-hopping variety makes for a far more bewitching experience, a bit like a birthday party where everyone you’ve ever liked shows up and mingles effortlessly. Lush Garfunkel-era epics such as America, The Sound Of Silence, Bridge Over Troubled Water and the glorious pop clatter of Cecilia nestle against inventive 80s world pop such as The Boy In The Bubble, with 70s folk evergreens Me & Julio Down By The Schoolyard, Still Crazy After All These Years and 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover working as charming chaperones. Pass the aspic./o:p