Still Crazy After All These Years
Columbia PC 33540
Released: September 1975
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 40
Certified Gold: 11/17/75
Although his aim may be higher, Paul Simon has always been more a wistful classicist than an adventurous romantic: He wouldn't dream of taking the Kierkegaardian leap to faith without first making a reservation at the best hotel on the other side. Even the fools don't act foolish in his songs, for such gratuitous and unchic behavior simply cannot be permitted in a closed off society where class and proper emotional manners are rated more favorably than quixotic clownishness and primal risk taking. Why should a fool be just a fool when he can be elevated to the loftier and more poetic status of victim? What's wrong with The Graduate anyway? Up there, there is almost no chance of being misunderstood or disliked, and everyone takes you seriously.
Still Crazy after All These Years, Simon's grim and ambitious new album, begs these and other questions as it sure-handedly paints itself into the usual corner under the familiar shadow of Bob Dylan. For inside the lush and dolorous Still Crazy, there is a lean, hungry Blood on the Tracks trying to get out. Both LPs chronicle the dissolution of a marriage, but where Dylan, with ofttimes awkward agony, makes you feel it, Simon, with more slick professionalism than is good for his subject matter, makes you think you feel it -- a crucial difference. Dylan's pragmatic, tough-minded "I hear her name here and there as I go from town to town/And I've never gotten used to it, I've just learned to turn it off" walks tall with its heartbreak, while Simon's
sulks in ruinous self-pity.
Perhaps baseball is just too precarious a metaphor for marriage, sex or death. But it works scarcely less well than the color-coordinated pain-yellow sky, gray grass, orange juice, orange and blue rug -- of "I Do It for Your Love," a song whose interior contains more decoration than intensity. Each detail is carefully arranged -- the orange juice is a killer! -- and primped into a precious still life worthy of the worst of J. D. Salinger's stories about the Glass family.
While a style at creative war with its content can set up interesting and ambiguous tensions that may actually strengthen the work as a whole, a style than constantly undercuts its good points is another matter. There is something ominous about the disparity between Simon and Phil Ramone's typically elaborate, creamy production and the downbeat theme of the album. Even Simon's overextended sense of irony cannot -- indeed, may not want to -- resolve the discrepancy. "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" is a complex, ironic song whose verses probe deeply into a unique situation of adultery: seduction disguised as therapy. Disappointingly, it suffers an attack of terminal cuteness during its facile chorus, which scans like an ad for Cosmopolitan.
Simon does manage some fine characterizations in several songs, however, "In my little town/I never meant nothin'/I was just my father's son," he sings, and the listener is moved. On "50 Ways," the protagonist says:
In the very subtle "You're Kind," the singer is absolutely eloquent about the reasons why there finally aren't any reasons when two people decide to call it quits.
If Still Crazy ultimately lacks the courage of its convictions -- the fake-gospel "Gone at Last" with Phoebe Snow just doesn't belong; too many songs seem aesthetically schizophrenic -- there is every indication those convictions were meant to be far-reaching. "Silent Eyes" talks about "stand(ing) before the eyes of God/And speak(ing) what was done." Both "My Little Town" -- with its hero "Twitching like a finger/On the trigger of a gun" -- and the title song more than hint at the possibility of violence. On the latter, the singer claims:
Meaning, of course, that his peers -- by implication, all of us -- are in the same shape he is.
"Still Crazy after All These Years" is the album's best song because it is the only one that successfully breaks through the stylistic barrier between Simon's subject matter and its natural implications and confronts both artist and audience directly. There is a poignancy and openness about its first verse that is charming. Mike Brecker's saxophone solo throbs with passion and for once the writer's sensibility is determined by the fierceness of his will rather than his funny fashionableness.
Paul Simon's myths were always too pretty to be believed -- they lacked the necessary mystery and danger to to have size. His Moby Dick would have been a disaster -- but no one has ever questioned his craftsmanship, the quality of his melodies or his seemingly inherent decency. It is difficult to imagine him "still crazy" because his pervasive intelligence has never allowed us to think him crazy in the first place. Good middleweights never are. If they were, they wouldn't need that hotel reservation.
- Paul Nelson, Rolling Stone, 12/4/75.
For me, Paul Simon's finest hour remains that superb first solo album, one of the great records of the Seventies. I don't think there is a single cut on it that is less than inspired, and the overall impression it leaves is of a glorious musical eclecticism and a concise, probing, and funny lyrical awareness. The follow-up, There Goes Rhymin' Simon, was a lot more ambitious and a lot less satisfying, the eclecticism giving way to an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach and an over-reliance on the Muscle Shoals sidemen who play exactly the same way for Paul Anka. But there was at least one cut on it so good that it validated the whole album ("American Tune," a just-about-perfect poem, song, or record).
Simon's newest, Still Crazy After All These Years, is, I'm afraid, just terrible, a totally uninspired rehash of lyric and melodic ideas used far more profitably in the past. The insights are more like cheap shots than anything else ("Nothing but the dead and dying back in my little town," indeed), and although there are a few clever lines, the bulk of this study is totally predictable. Most lamentably, the album is dominated by the kind of supper-club cocktail jazz so many of our older stars seem to think is "mature" (it makes the latest Joni Mitchell album, for me, unlistenable). Simon has flirted profitably with the genre in the past, but here he seems to be deadly serious. The results are so vile that they have cast a retroactive pall on some of his earlier work.
- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 2/76.
First studio LP in several years from this superstar is a collection of exceptionally pretty and melodic songs with an occasional rocker tossed in to balance things out. Guests include the likes of Roger Hawkins, David Hood, Art Garfunkel (on "My Little Town"), Toots Thielemans, the Jessy Dixon Singers and Bob James and Joe Beck, with James handling some arrangements. Primarily a quiet LP, though horns are used sparingly, and the overall effect is the subdued Rhymin' Simon who has produced so many masterpieces over the years. As always with Simon, there are lots of good story songs, and strong soul, jazz and gospel influences as well as his own original melodic strain. Best cuts: "Still Crazy After All These Years," "My Little Town," "Night Game," "Gone At Last" (with Phoebe Snow), "Have A Good Time," "You're Kind."
- Billboard, 1975.
I resented the patina of cheerfulness on There Goes Rhymin' Simon (1973) because I thought it sold out the terse, evocative candor of Paul Simon (1972). Now I miss its intimations of universality. I hope in 1977 I'm not moved to praise unduly the small, self-involved ironies that define this record at its best ("50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," "You're Kind") without alleviating its lugubriousness ("Night Game," "Silent Eyes"). P.S. As you probably know, Art Garfunkel is back for one number. As you may not have noticed, Simon takes this as a cue to revert to the sophomoricism of "Richard Cory" and "The Sound of Silence" -- "a finger on the trigger of a gun" indeed. B
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
After Rhymin' Simon, Paul Simon's strongest all-round album. Posterity will remember the sharply observed, musically adhesive "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover." So appropriate to the lives of Simon's contemporaries in the mid seventies that his publishing house must have been inundated with requests for instruction sheets.
Again calling on the angel-pure voice of Art Garfunkel for the childhood nostalgia of "My Little Town," Simon relaxes into the lyrical formula to be drawn on throughout his later writing with mixed results.
The most rewarding collaboration here must be that with the very talented Phoebe Snow in the gospel rocker "Gone At Last" backed by the Jessy Dixon Singers which, despite the music's revivalist feel, has an almost Country and Western lyric having little if anything to do with religion.
Remastering for Compact Disc has produced a big, rounded sound from the tapes. Just eleven years on the Still Crazy CD has been put out with a "Historic Reissue" flash! * * *
- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.
The wonderful production values are still evident, as is the compositional craftsmanship -- but melancholy in one thing, lugubriousness is another. There are some fine moments -- "Still Crazy After All These Years" and "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" -- but too much of the rest is either a bit facile or a bit too afflicted with emotional malaise. For an analog source, the sound is nicely dynamic, clean, and suitably warm. B
- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.
The third new studio album of Paul Simon's post-Simon and Garfunkel career was a musical and lyrical change of pace from his first two, Paul Simon and There Goes Rhymin' Simon. Where Simon had taken an eclectic approach before, delving into a variety of musical styles and recording all over the world, Still Crazy found him working for the most part with a group of jazz-pop New York session players, though he did do a couple of tracks ("My Little Town" and "Still Crazy After All These Years") with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section that had appeared on Rhymin' Simon and another ("Gone At Last") returned to the gospel style of earlier songs like "Loves Me Like A Rock." Of course, "My Little Town" also marked a return to working with Art Garfunkel, and another Top Ten entry for S&G. But the overall feel of Still Crazy was of a jazzy style subtly augmented with strings and horns. Perhaps more striking, however, was Simon's lyrical approach. Where Rhymin' Simon was the work of a confident family man, Still Crazy came off as a post-divorce album, its songs reeking of smug self-satisfaction and romantic disillusionment. At their best, such sentiments were undercut by humor and made palatable by musical hooks, as on "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover," which became the biggest solo hit of Simon's career. But elsewhere, as on "Have A Good Time" (written for but not used in the film Shampoo and perhaps intended to express the shallow feelings of the main character), the singer's cynicism seemed unearned. Still, as out of sorts as Simon may have been, he was never more in tune with his audience: Still Crazy topped the charts, spawned four Top 40 hits, and won Grammys for Song of the Year and Best Vocal Performance. (Originally released by Columbia Records in October 1975 as Columbia 33540, Still Crazy After All These Years was reissued in 1981 as a half-speed mastered audiophile LP by Columbia as Columbia 43540. It was reissued in 1988 by Warner Brothers Records as Warner Brothers 25591.) * * * * *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Still Crazy After All These Years features classy songs caught in a rich, 70s-styled production. * * * *
- Leland Rucker, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
Just as he caught his generation in song as it owned the Sixties, Simon captured its contradictions in middle age -- unfulfilled promise, unchecked abandon -- in the tender, incisive title song. Even the fun was barbed here -- the sexual betrayal inside the hipster lingo of "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" -- while a dynamic reunion with Garfunkel, "My Little Town," came with a bitter moral center: Some homes are only good for leaving.
- David Fricke, Rolling Stone, 12/1/16.
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