Surprise (Paul Simon album)
|Studio album by Paul Simon|
|Released||May 9, 2006|
|Paul Simon chronology|
Surprise is the eleventh solo studio album by American musician Paul Simon, released in May 2006.
After the relative success of You're the One, which was released in late 2000 finding Simon back to the Top 20 of the American charts after ten years of absence and also receiving a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year, Paul Simon spent most of the following two years promoting the album. In 2002 he took a year off, and during 2003 and 2004 had a widely documented reunion with Art Garfunkel, followed by a Simon & Garfunkel comeback tour. During June and July 2004, the duo extensively toured America and Europe and the concerts were registered on both a live album and video that was released by the end of the year. Also in December 2004, Paul Simon's studio albums were re-released in remastered issues, as well as re-promoted.
According to Simon, one of the first songs written for the album was "Wartime Prayers", which became one of the most celebrated tracks of the album and later a concert favourite. Simon commented that, in some kind of premonition, the song was written even before the Iraq invasion in 2003. Soon after, early recording for the album began. The album was recorded in London, New York and Nashville. Simon first met with Brian Eno in London to discuss a collaboration between Eno's electronic production and Simon's classic guitar folk-rock. As Simon said, "We spent some time in his studio and decided to combine our visions. It took about two years. The actual time I spent with Brian was 20 days, split into four periods. We found we could really work intensely for five days, and after that it was a bit of a burnout." 
In personal terms, Simon was inspired by the fact of being over sixty years old – an age that he turned in 2001 and that he humorously referred already on his single "Old", from the You're the One album.
In the way of the songs were written, Simon stated – "I start with the rhythm. It's drums first, then I go to key to sound to guitar to the form of the song to the beginning of the melody. As the melody begins, so do the words. That's how it's been since Graceland. I write backward." Simon was particularly grateful with the results of the songs written considering of his age.
I'm much more judgmental these days. Finishing a song is more satisfying now because I'm grateful, whereas when I was 28, I expected it. Now if I find something to say, and I say it in a way that I think is artful and true, I'm relieved I wasn't frustrated or stymied. When I was younger, I just said whatever I had to say. I ask myself now: Do I deeply believe that? Will anybody get it? Am I just talking to myself? You have to put that aside because it's not very helpful. [...] I'm trying to be as honest as I can expressing myself musically and lyrically, editing out what might be considered obscure but not trying to oversimplify or be condescending. And then I have to let go, even if I don't immediately understand the words. What I meant eventually reveals itself. You can be too familiar with the process, which I've been doing since I was 15. Sometimes, instead of manipulating the craft, you have to just be the vessel through which some sort of inspiration will flow. With this record, it took me a while to map out a path.— Paul Simon, 
Simon showed special care about the musical venture he traveled since 1986's Graceland. As he put it, "Once you go away for a bit, you wonder who people think you are. If they don't know what you're up to, they just go by your history. I'm so often described as this person that went to other cultures, which is true, but I never thought of it that way. I suspect people are thinking, 'What culture did you go to?' But this record is straight-ahead American."
The digital sounds of the 2000s also reportedly inspired Simon. "I wondered, 'Is this an appropriate context to express various thoughts, given the way people listen now and the way music is exposed to the world?' Pop music, as it's constantly evolving, is completely different from the value system and aesthetic I grew up with and contributed to." Simon stated that he wasn't demonizing technological shifts. "The Internet is opening things up", he said. "At first it caused the record business to implode, but now it's making life easier. It's broken the stranglehold that radio had. Downloading has made people more eclectic in their tastes, and I'd guess eventually that will redirect radio to loosen up, because it will have to compete. When that happens, you can say whatever you want, and there will be a place for it."
Eno was finally not credited as producer but as provider of "sonic landscape". Simon expressed gratitude with the album – "Working with Brian Eno opens the door to a world of sonic possibilities; plus he's just a great guy to hang with in the studio, or for that matter in life. I had a really good time."
|Enjoy the Music|||
|Music Box Magazine|||
Surprise was positively received by most critics. It gained a metascore of 78/100 on Metacritic, based on 23 professional reviews. The Observer gave the album a full five stars, with reviewer Neil Spencer praising both Simon's and Eno's work, "Simon offers no easy answers to the questions sprayed out in his memorable lines, alternating dreamy idylls with grumpy dissatisfaction while Eno's production ebbs and flows like a digitalised Greek chorus." He called the album "a thrilling return to form". Entertainment Weekly's Chris Willman gave the album an A-, stating that "patience is rewarded with moments of stellar songwriting", in an allusion to the high anticipation of the release of the album. Willman praised particularly Brian Eno's work: "If Surprise seduces a wider audience than the placid-sounding You're the One, thank co-producer Brian Eno, whose sonic upgrade makes his subject's musings more ear-tickling and appropriately tense. [...] Eno finds smart ways to accent Simon's worry lines."  Stephen Thomas Erlewine from Allmusic was also very positive with the album, giving it 4.5 stars out of 5, and calling the album a "comeback": "Simon doesn't achieve his comeback by reconnecting with the sound and spirit of his classic work; he has achieved it by being as restless and ambitious as he was at his popular and creative peak, which makes Surprise all the more remarkable."
Both Billboard and Rolling Stone were a little less enthusiastic and both gave the album 3.5 stars, with Billboard stating that "Surprise falls shy of a masterpiece, but it is consistently engaging and offers some of Simon's most creative songs in two decades." Rolling Stone wrote that "despite the album's shiny surface, Simon sounds like Simon".
Simon promoted the album extensively, making television appearances, signing copies of the album and later launching a transatlantic tour in support of Surprise.
On May 7, he appeared on Sunday Morning where he was interviewed by Harry Smith. On May 12, three days after the release of the album, he appeared on Good Morning America. On May 13 Simon performed "How Can You Live in the Northeast?" and "Outrageous" at Saturday Night Live. Promotion in the UK was next, with Simon performing "Outrageous", "Father and Daughter" and "Graceland" on Later... with Jools Holland. That show also featured performances by David Gilmour with David Crosby and Graham Nash, Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, The Streets and Nação Zumbi.
The hype surrounding the release of the album was followed by a positive commercial reception. With Surprise, Paul Simon achieved his greatest week of sales during the Soundscan era, when the album debuted at #14 on the Billboard 200 with sales of over 61,000 copies sold, which slightly surpassed the 60,000 units sold by You're the One back in 2000. Surprise was also Simon's highest chart position in his homeland since The Rhythm of the Saints landed at #4 in 1990. Surprise has sold 296,000 copies in the US.
In the UK, reaction was even stronger, with the album debuting at #4, and then becoming his best chart position also since The Rhythm of the Saints was #1 in 1990. During its second week, Surprise notably stayed at #4, and then slipped down to #20 during its third week, disappearing quickly from the charts.
Surprise gained attention for spawning an unusual number of singles for a later Simon album, something that did not happen with either Songs From The Capeman or You're the One.
"Father and Daughter" was released in Europe on May 29, 2006 as a CD single backed with "Another Galaxy". It managed to reach #31 in the UK, becoming Simon's only appearance as a solo artist on the British singles charts after 1990. On August 21, "That's Me" was released as the second single of the album, with the classic "You Can Call Me Al" as the B-side. It failed to appear on any national charts.
Finally, "Outrageous", one of the most promoted and particularly distinctive songs from the album, was released as the third single of Surprise on November 13. The B-side for the CD single was the American number-one hit "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover", while the B-side for the coloured vinyl 7" single was the Top 5 smash "Slip Slidin' Away". "Outrageous" was also promoted with a music video specifically made for the song. It also, however, failed to become a hit single.
All songs written and composed by Paul Simon, with additional music composed by Brian Eno on tracks 3, 8 and 9.
- "How Can You Live in the Northeast?" – 3:42
- "Everything About It Is a Love Song" – 3:57
- "Outrageous" – 3:24
- "Sure Don't Feel like Love" – 3:57
- "Wartime Prayers" – 4:49
- "Beautiful" – 3:07
- "I Don't Believe" – 4:09
- "Another Galaxy" – 5:22
- "Once Upon a Time There Was an Ocean" – 3:55
- "That's Me" – 4:43
- "Father and Daughter" – 4:11
- Paul Simon – Vocals, Guitar
- Adrian Simon – Vocals
- Jessy Dixon Singers – Vocals
- Vincent Nguini – Acoustic guitar
- Bill Frisell – Electric guitar
- Herbie Hancock – Piano
- Gil Goldstein – harmonium, keyboards
- Alex Al – Bass
- Abraham Laboriel – Bass
- Pino Palladino – Bass
- Leo Abrahams – Fretless bass
- Robin DiMaggio – Drums
- Steve Gadd – Drums
- Jamey Haddad – Percussion
- Brian Eno – Electronics, Sound landscape
- Andy Smith – Recording & programming
- Tchad Blake – Mixing
- Chris Testa - Engineer
The Surprise Tour
The Surprise Tour covered the United States, Canada and parts of Europe between June and November 2006. It consisted on 27 shows, including a performance on a sold-out Wembley Stadium on November 10. Below is a typical setlist from "The Surprise Tour."
- "The Boy in the Bubble"
- "Slip Slidin' Away"
- "You're the One"
- "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard"
- "How Can You Live in the Northeast"
- "Mrs. Robinson"
- "Loves Me Like a Rock"
- "That Was Your Mother"
- "Father and Daughter"
- "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes"
- "Still Crazy After All These Years"
- "You Can Call Me Al"
- "The Only Living Boy in New York"
- "The Boxer" (featuring Jerry Douglas on Dobro)
- "Wartime Prayers"
- "Bridge Over Troubled Water"
Note: The set listed above is in the order performed at Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, Maryland, July 12, 2006.
An October 2006 performance during a tour stop at the Tower Theater outside Philadelphia was recorded and aired as part of National Public Radio's Live Concert Series. The concert recording featured 24 tracks from Paul Simon's 5-decade career.
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Gold||100,000^|
^shipments figures based on certification alone
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