Simon & Garfunkel
Bridge over Troubled Water
[40th Anniversary Edition]
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2011, Volume 18, #7
Written by John Metzger
Wed October 26, 2011, 05:30 AM CDT
As the 1960s progressed, the influence of The Beatles became so pervasive that one would be hard-pressed to find an artist who didnít fall under the groupís spell. Often the greatness that other bands achieved emanated from a strong desire to elevate their craft to the point where their endeavors could be compared favorably to the albums and singles issued by the Fab Four. It is widely known that Rubber Soul spurred Brian Wilson to create Pet Sounds. One certainly could also argue that, without The Beatles, Bob Dylan never would have fled from the folk scene.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel also were not immune to The Beatlesí charm. Although the duo initially modeled its approach after the harmony-driven folk-rock of The Everly Brothers, it quickly began to embellish its arrangements with psychedelic flourishes that were drawn directly from The Beatlesí repertoire. In fact, the five albums that Simon & Garfunkel issued between 1965 and 1970 mirror, at least in part, the arc that The Beatles followed during this same period of time. In other words, if Bookends was Simon & Garfunkelís version of Sgt. Pepperís Lonely Hearts Club Band, then Bridge over Troubled Water undoubtedly is poised squarely between The White Album and Abbey Road.
Much like the members of The Beatles during the groupís final moments, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were beginning to drift apart, even as they searched for ways to try to stay together. This is apparent throughout Bridge over Troubled Water. It not only manifests itself in the loneliness that pervades the endeavor ó most notably during The Only Living Boy in New York ó but also in the way that the collection is divided into pieces that serve Simon and Garfunkel as independent artists. Simon, in particular, seems ready to move beyond the folk-pop melodies that had graced his work with Garfunkel. Over the course of Bridge over Troubled Water, he injects Brazilian jazz (So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright) and Andean folk (El Condor Pasa) styles into the heart of Simon & Garfunkelís standard routine.
There is no doubt that Simon and Garfunkel remained close friends and collaborated heavily on the direction that Bridge over Troubled Water took. This notion is demonstrated repeatedly during the two documentaries that are included on the 40th anniversary edition of the set: Songs of America, a captivating, Charles Grodin-directed documentary that aired on CBS just prior to the outingís release, and The Harmony Game, a recent retrospective. At the same time, though, the tensions that had grown between the brothers-in-arms also had begun to bubble to the surface of their interactions.
In actuality, the guy who looks even stronger in hindsight is producer Roy Halee, who recognized the strengths and weaknesses of Simonís material, and repeatedly sought ways of bolstering the arrangements with sonic experimentation. He not only pushed for Simon to pen another verse for Bridge over Troubled Waterís title track ó one that brought Simon & Garfunkelís voices together in perfect harmony ó but he also found the ideal location to record the dramatic drum beats that punctuate The Boxer. At times, in a style reminiscent of Phil Spector, he wove an array of subtle textures into a towering Wall of Sound. Other moments are hauntingly intimate.
Bridge over Troubled Water is undoubtedly a transitional affair. It effortlessly captures the closing of an era as well as the end of a partnership. It also features some of the best songs that Simon had written to this point of his career ó The Boxer, The Only Living Boy in New York, and the title track, among them. Yet, because Simon was pulling away from Garfunkel, there is an unevenness that plagues the entirety of the outing.
Bridge over Troubled Water was Simon & Garfunkelís most commercially successful endeavor, one that continued to capture the hearts and minds of a generation by nabbing a quartet of Grammy awards the following year. It also was the duoís most ambitious and groundbreaking effort. Nevertheless, Bridge over Troubled Water isnít the groupís most consistent album. There simply are too many cracks in its foundation, which collectively prevent the outingís contents from congealing into a unified whole.
Of Further Interest...
Bridge over Troubled Water: 40th Anniversary Edition is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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