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Paul Simon, So Beautiful or So What (Hear) 

Paul Simon—69 and fearless—tackles spirituality, mortality and the endless, mysterious power of love on a stunning new record that eclipses all of his solo work since Graceland.

With poetic directness and restless curiosity, Simon's lyrics are loaded with questions and pondering about the meaning of life, the nature of God and where precisely humanity fits in the vastness of eternity. Song titles like "Love Is Eternal Sacred Light" and "Questions for the Angels" cut right to the point.

Simon's contributions to rock and folk music are as great as anyone's, and 25 years after Graceland, So Beautiful or So What arrives as a statement of continued relevance. Musically, it's dense and gorgeous, with those familiar vivid rhythms and flourishes that he's turned to in his latter work. The album is consistent almost to a fault; despite its other strengths, it is missing the sort of timeless single that he's turned out over and over.

Simon's skilled songwriting finds and subsequently reveals fascination in the small details of daily life, at the same time as he's dealing with life's huge questions. As he sings in "The Afterlife," "It seems like our fate to suffer and wait for the knowledge we seek."

Simon is certainly a seeker—with a long career of making incredible musical progressions outside of any trend. Produced by Simon and Phil Ramone, So Beautiful or So What is like a long and lively conversation, rushing through ideas and questions as if they were thrill rides.

More by Eric Swedlund

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