Two angelic voices and a lot of fingerpicked acoustic guitar, making some songs sound like others (“A Most Peculiar Man”’s intro sounds like “The Sound of Silence”) and a lot of pleasantry that’s really not enough to remark upon (“Anji”). Some songs will have drums (“Blessed”) or horns (“Somewhere They Can’t Find Me”; “We’ve Got a Groovey Thing Goin’ On”) to belie the fact that there isn’t anything else going on in them; most the lyrics are about the same subject matter. And Simon – who would go on to be a great lyricist – hasn’t gotten there yet. For example, this part from “A Most Peculiar Man” always irks me to no end: “He died last Saturday / He turned on the gas and he went to sleep / With the windows closed”; well no, shit, we kind of figured the windows were closed based on all the other facts presented.
In other words, this album – which turns 50 today – is overrated, riding on the reputation of one capital-A great song and one solid closer; bookending mediocrity with good songs often creates an illusion of goodness because humans will remember the first and last things of a list and forget the middle. Hell, considering how half of this album was already previously available, it’s almost as if the entire thing was cobbled together to capitalize on “The Sound of Silence”’s success (which itself was created to capitalize on “Like a Rolling Stone”’s success). The only song that’s (presumably) not available on any compilation that’s of interest is “April Come She Will”, which might pass you by like everything else (it did me at first), but whose frail melody is one of the album’s best (although, in accordance to my point about Simon’s lyrics, the graphic “August, die she must” is at odds with the lovely sonics).
All that being said, the main attraction is one of my favorite things ever, and one of my most-listened to songs: love the way the drums come in to capture the sense of movement (“In restless dreams I walked alone…”), love the way Simon moves he voice (“Beneath the halo of a streetlamp / I turned my collar to the cold and damp”) – it’s stuff like this that doesn’t demand attention yet deserves it, that separates Simon from other whisper-singers. And this isn’t said nearly enough: “And the people bowed and prayed / To the neon god they made” is one of the most prophetic lyrics ever.