4.3 9
by Paul Simon
There's never been any disputing Paul Simon's status as one of the rock era's great songwriters. But when it comes time to recording those songs, he's always been at his best when teamed with a foil, whether it be erstwhile partner Art Garfunkel or collaborators like Ladysmith Black Mambazo (who


There's never been any disputing Paul Simon's status as one of the rock era's great songwriters. But when it comes time to recording those songs, he's always been at his best when teamed with a foil, whether it be erstwhile partner Art Garfunkel or collaborators like Ladysmith Black Mambazo (who partnered with him on Graceland). Here, Simon calls upon a new teammate, one that, not to pun on the disc's title, comes as something of a surprise. Here, Simon has recruited producer Brian Eno, a master of ambient sound who's brought out new facets in just about everyone he's worked with, from U2 to David Bowie -- a streak he continues here. The graceful, introspective songs that Simon pulled together for Surprise are ideally suited for Eno's tinkering, ranging from the angular "Outrageous," which alternates whisper and scream sections with aplomb, to the ethereal "That's Me," a wisp of a tune that brings out the most poignant notes in Simon's voice. The singer has, for now at least, shelved his penchant for serving up aural comfort food. Instead, he brings some of his most challenging notions to the table, such as the lean, emotionally devastating lyrics of the gospel-tinged "Wartime Prayers" and the acerbic self-assessments of "Sure Don't Feel Like Love," which Eno wraps in a groove that somehow reconciles the diametrically opposed funk approaches of Bo Diddley and David Byrne. While there will certainly be some folks still pining for Simon to go another round with his old pal Art, those willing to take a chance will find that Simon's just as compelling when teamed with art of the small "a" variety.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
The obvious surprise of Surprise, Paul Simon's tenth solo album and his first since 2000's underrated You're the One, is that the singer/songwriter has enlisted Brian Eno as his collaborator. At first glance the pairing seems odd, even awkward, since they seem to come from opposing backgrounds: Simon the folk-rock troubadour and Eno the avant-garde art rock adventurist. Dig a little deeper, and the similarities do surface. For one, there is the mutual shared interest in world music -- most evident in Eno's productions/collaborations with Talking Heads at the turn of the '70s and on Simon's 1986 Graceland and its 1990 follow-up, The Rhythm of the Saints, but there are undercurrents running as far back as Simon & Garfunkel's "Cecilia." But more than any other singer/songwriter of his generation, Paul Simon has demonstrated a keen interest in having his albums sound unique and distinct from each other, using each album as an opportunity to explore a different sonic characteristic, so working with a sonic landscaper (as his back-cover credit on Surprise calls him) is not out of character. Similarly, Eno has not been entirely adverse to pop, either, as his ongoing collaboration with U2 proves, not to mention his productions for James or even the flamboyant pop of such early Roxy Music singles as "Virginia Plain." So, their collaboration here is unexpected, but not unnatural -- in fact, it's anything but unnatural, since Surprise is as seamless and graceful as Graceland, which it resembles greatly in how it blends a new sound with Simon's songs. But where Graceland found Simon writing around existing rhythm tracks, the opposite is true here: Eno fills in the space behind songs, creating an evocative, dream-like bed for Simon's words, which, more than ever, scan equally well as poetry as they do song lyrics. Simon was shifting toward this direction on You're the One, but he pushes even harder here, largely abandoning familiar song structures -- only two cuts here have something resembling a conventional chorus, and one of those is "Father and Daughter," originally released on the Wild Thornberrys soundtrack and the only track not treated by Eno -- for elliptical, winding songs that demand attention. These are songs that cry out for the kind of cinematic sounds Eno brings to them, since he helps give them structure, momentum, and emotional weight, and his "sonic landscapes" do this precisely, following the contours of Simon's words and enhancing his meaning. And while Surprise glides along easily, thanks both to Eno's seamless work and the warmth of Simon's voice, it's an album meant to be listened to closely, and it pays back that effort handsomely. With repeated plays, Simon's songs don't seem as open-ended, and there's more to discover within Eno's production, particularly in how it plays off Simon's recurring themes of faith, aging, fatherhood, and getting by in George W. Bush's U.S.A. But this is not by any stretch a protest record; "How Can You Live in the Northeast?" and "Wartime Prayers" are about the uneasiness of living in the post-9/11 America, yet they're not statements of outrage, they're about the emotional toil of the time, and they have counterparts in the wearied narrators of "Once Upon a Time There Was an Ocean" and "Outrageous." It adds up to a bittersweet undercurrent that runs through Surprise, not unlike the melancholy threaded throughout Hearts and Bones, which this also resembles in its overall introspective tone and arty bent, but this is hardly a one-dimensional record; there is gentle hope and wry humor as well, giving this music a rich elegance that makes it stand among Simon's best work. Unlike such deservedly praised comeback albums from some of his peers -- such as Dylan's Love and Theft, the Rolling Stones' A Bigger Bang, Paul McCartney's Chaos and Creation in the Backyard -- 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.
Rolling Stone - Christian Hoard
1/2 Eno outfits some of Simon's most elegant songs yet with spacey accouterments, ranging from the shimmery atmospherics of "That's Me" to the buzzy electro-folk groove of "Another Galaxy."
Entertainment Weekly - Chris Willman
[Grade: A-] Patience is rewarded with moments of stellar songwriting. ''I Don't Believe'' is practically an album unto itself.... Eno finds smart ways to accent Simon's worry lines.
The New Yorker - Ben Greenman
The surprise this time is that Simon isn't search of new sounds. But he hasn't stopped exploring, either.... Simon remains the most intelligent songwriter of his generation.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Barry Gilbert
[Grade: B] "Surprise" is challenging, and in a pop music world ruled by burn bright-flame out familiarity, that could be its finest quality.

Product Details

Release Date:
Warner Bros / Wea

Related Subjects


Album Credits

Performance Credits

Paul Simon   Primary Artist,Acoustic Guitar,Electric Guitar,Vocals
Gil Goldstein   Harmonium,Keyboards
Herbie Hancock   Piano
Alex Al   Bass
Brian Eno   electronics
Bill Frisell   Electric Guitar
Steve Gadd   Drums
Jamey Haddad   Percussion
Jessy Dixon Singers   Vocals,Choir, Chorus
Abraham Laboriel   Bass,Bass Guitar
Vincent Nguini   Acoustic Guitar
Pino Palladino   Bass,Bass Guitar
Robin Dimaggio   Drums
Leo Abrahams   Fretless Bass Guitar
Adriana Simon   Vocals
Adrian Simon   Vocals

Technical Credits

Paul Simon   Composer,Producer,Audio Production
Brian Eno   Composer,Sonic Environment
Charles Paakkari   Engineer
Mike Peters   Engineer
Tommy Willis   Instrument Technician
Mike Burns   Instrument Technician
Andy Smith   Programming,Engineer
Jimmy Briggs   Engineer
Jeffrey Kent Ayeroff   Art Direction
Derek Moffat   Engineer
Bryan Russell   Engineer
Claudius Mittendorfer   Engineer
Dan Gross   Engineer
Dan Bucchi   Engineer
Laurence Brazil   Engineer
Chip Kidd   Art Direction
Chris Testa   Engineer,Instrument Technician
Bryan Smith   Engineer
Marlon Weyeneth   Instrument Technician
Zach McNees   Engineer
Scrap Marshall   Engineer
Ryan Simms   Engineer

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Surprise 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I cannot wait for this CD. I cried just listening to the streamed "Wartime Prayers." What a genius ... the song and the songwriter.
Guest More than 1 year ago
ABSOLUTELY love the four songs
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have been a big fan of Paul Simon for many years. I anxiously awaited the new release. Some of the songs are a departure such as "How Can You Live in the Northeast". However, "Beautiful" has more of his world music style. Overall, I really enjoyed listing. I am glad he put in "Father and Daughter". Since I am the mother and I have son, when I sing it to him I will replace Father and Daughter with Mother and Son.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This album is truly a work of art. Paul Simon once again delivers songs that prove he is master of lyric, melody and sound and an artist not afraid explore and change. What a refreshing piece of work!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Harks back to "Hearts and Bones," which I love. More complex and hard-edged lyrically. Musically, it's got a softer edge, but it weaves a spell that can get past any cynic's guard. I really want to give it 4.5 stars.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Paul Simon's new album features the songwriter in a new light that freshens his music and his message. Brian Eno treats each song with the right amount of electronic soundscape poetry to envelope the listener's soul in a comfortable blanket while Simon's thoughtful wordscape poetry targets the emotional center of the intellect creating a delectable, nutritional blend that feeds both. Simon realizes that his poetry requires an updating to that which carries it to the listener. The drone and flatness that many reviewers notice IS that new carriage. Mixing the current technology of thumping sub-woofer and electronica with the gentle notes of acoustic guitar would be hard for the most creative of artists. However, Simon and Eno pull it off here as each artist obviously respects the other's area of talented expertise. On my high-end home and lesser-end car systems, the album sounds perfectly mixed. The Simon's vocals and guitar center while Eno's treatments cascade around the room. Moreover, the album reminds one at times of both artist's best works. One can hear strains of Eno's production on and contribution to the Talking Head's REMAIN IN LIGHT while at the same time bringing to mind Simon's best work on GRACELAND. This synthesis is exciting and original and should be listened to and accepted as the synthesis that it is the album sounds new/old, and I find that exciting. It seems as though I've always known these songs, and to me, that is a good thing. The album sounds friendly and wears like a comfortable shirt. At the same time, the synthesis makes me sad and nostalgic for the feelings of discovery these wonderful, talented men brought me when we were all younger and more open to new things. I miss those days of discovery however, SURPRISE offers a hint of the idealism lost in and on youth, and consequently, reopens the intellect with a tear or two, an anguished grunt over time lost, and hope for the future in one's children. Buy it and listen. SURPRISE is good for you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was in Barnes & Nobles browsing and I kept hearing this great CD every time I shopped in B&N, and that was really calming, and it had a very different sound/beat, when I asked the salesperson I was told that it's Paul S. new CD. So I picked up the CD today and I am really enjoying it. I highly recommend this CD, its great!!!! and you will definitely not be disappointed, I wasn't
Guest More than 1 year ago
Being a 50-something year old, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were a staple in my teen/young adult years. The Concert in Central Park became an instant favorite of mine when it came out, and I still play it. Recently, I've enjoyed Old Friends on Stage. This is the first album I've bought with just Paul Simon, preferring the nostalgic hits I knew so well. Hearing just one track online made me go right out and buy this cd! I love it! The songs are just edgy and thought provoking enough, the sounds new and spacey enough, and Paul still does what he always did--sings a great song.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Simon is quite possibly the most OVERRATED American singer/songwriter in history!! Always overly wordy, and always trying to appear much more intelligent than he probably is, Simon has created his success by using others' talents and never giving them the notoriety or the money he owed them! No where near as talented or important as he thinks he American fable, is Paul Simon being a talent.