There is a secret school somewhere—perhaps underneath a coffeehouse in the Bowery—where aspiring singer-songwriters are given their first lesson. It isn’t in lyric writing, nor song structure, nor how to play the harmonica and guitar at the same time, but in vocabulary. Repeat after me: Ba-ba-ba, lie-a-lie, da-n-da-da…
Is this sinking in? No? Well, it’s just a crash course. The best poet-musicians have studied long and hard from advanced classes like Bridge Over Troubled Water. Those fragmentary sounds form the keystones of Bridge, it seems, creating a quiet, emotional space where the sad smiles you’ve been saving up throughout its songs can finally be born.
Bridge is a masterpiece of pop, of songwriting, of grief and youth and everything else Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel made it their business to write about. It’s their final masterpiece, too, and aptly lays out the fullest spectrum of their musical development throughout the ’60s. You can hear the internationalism of New York on this record, in a way—the teeming, fighting voices, coming from corners of rooms and out of lonely subway stations, of every shape and tone, and yet all distinctly the work of S&G.
Slowly, sweepingly, the record opens with “Bridge,” one of the duo’s best-loved songs. Its lyrics are really very simple. There’s nothing overly poetical about them, nor is there a colorful flourish in their choice of words. That’s possibly a reason it’s become their hallmark—anyone can relate to the creeping swell of emotion in this song, and the crashing climax of Simon shouting “Like a bridge over troubled water, I will ease your mind.”
It gets the emotional release of this being S&G’s swansong out of the way, after which you can settle down through “El Condor Pasa.” “Pasa” isn’t precisely single material, but for that reason it’s overlooked. Personally, it reminds me of late suppers in Chile, and memories of laughing family and music I never really liked, but which has grown on me due to its nostalgic associations. Kenas, the instrument of choice on the Chilean folk hits my grandmother is fond of, whistle softly through this song, low and hollow, like the cold, wailing breath of the Andes. Simon’s voice soars amongst them, heavy with melancholy about how “A man gets tied up to the ground / He gives the world its saddest sound.”
There’s a handful of rockers on Bridge, without which it would maintain a near-suicidal mood. For this reason they’re necessary, and they begin with “Cecilia” and “Keep the Customer Satisfied.” The former is a toe-tapper about loving a woman who loves you along with everyone else in her bed. The latter explores the world-weary feeling of being beaten that’s shared on “The Boxer,” but this is the one you don’t mind singing along to in the car. Blending horns, drums, and the acoustic guitar, these, “Baby Driver” and “Bye Bye Love” are the more energetic tracks on the record.
In other words, they’re the ones you don’t listen to on repeat, mouth tight and mind rapt. That distinction is saved for songs like “The Boxer,” in which Simon’s lyrics dance as nimbly as the guitar strums backing them. The chorus of “lie-a-lies,” accompanied by intermittent drum beats that sound like thunderclaps, will give you pause. It’s the song to sing for the homesick and the alone. Skip ahead to “The Only Living Boy in New York” for a softer, more acoustic version of the same feelings.
After playing with so many styles across this record, a bossa nova track shouldn’t seem surprising, but regardless, it does. “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” sounds like a soft, “Girl From Ipanema” for architects, and is a wry tribute to S&G’s taller half, Garfunkel. Listen to the end and you can hear Simon saying his goodbyes much more simply: “So long, already, Artie!”
S&G’s fans get a fitting sendoff as well, though, in “Song For The Asking.” It become clear why the explosive title track was chosen for an opening when you hear this quiet, sweet and short fare-thee-well. “Ask me and I will play / all the love that I hold inside,” sings Simon, and we thank him and Garfunkel for doing so.
Similar Albums/Albums Influenced:
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Déjà vu
Cat Stevens – Teaser and the Firecat
Joni Mitchell – Blue