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Thu March 10, 2011
Review - Bridge Over Troubled Water
By Ian Pickus
Albany, NY – Bridge Over Troubled Water was originally supposed to have two extra tracks, but Paul Simon nixed Art Garfunkel's favored Bach chorale, and Artie said no to Paul's political tune Cuba Si, Nixon No.
So the duo decided to leave it at 11 songs, which is where the album remains more than four decades later in this reissue.
And considering some of the songs, 11 was just enough. Why water down brilliance?
The title track is the duo's signature moment - Simon at his songwriting best, Garfunkel hitting the high notes in one of pop music's most memorable climaxes.
But the album abounds with classics, from Cecilia to The Boxer to the underrated Song For The Asking.
The bickering over the track list was a bad sign for the future of Simon and Garfunkel, the on-again, mostly off-again duo that called off a 2010 tour (which included a stop at Tanglewood) because of Garfunkel's vocal paralysis. Hearing this album, however, is to hear each man at the height of his talents.
What makes this release so special is the accompanying DVD, which features Songs of America, a controversial 1969 television special that rankled advertisers for its use of raw civil rights-era footage, and The Harmony Game, a documentary featuring new interviews with the principle players.
Producer Roy Halee and the backing musicians discuss how Halee fostered the group's signature sound, recording everywhere from the hallway to Columbia University's church. The Boxer's powerful chorus benefitted from such innovation.
But it's the relationship between Paul and Artie that still fascinates, as Garfunkel tells the off-camera interviewer that he won't discuss his relationship with Paul then or now, aside from saying it's private and full of love. And Paul bristles at the suggestion that the album is about separation, even as he admits that it featured separate solo singing performances for the first time, foretelling the famous fracture to come.
I can't blame Simon for keeping his songwriting inspirations to himself, but it's hard to ignore the bitter irony and sadness in The Only Living Boy in New York - even if you didn't know that Tom in the song's opening line refers to Garfunkel's old stage name.
I've always felt the tragedy of Simon and Garfunkel is that, much like The Beatles, who existed over roughly the same too-short stretch, the boys from Queens weren't able to keep their magic intact. Greedily, I wish they'd recorded 10 albums instead of five.
But looking back at this record, maybe I'm wrong. Even Simon admits that it was going to be impossible to top Bridge Over Troubled Water with the group's next studio record.
Which is why we're still waiting for it 40 years later. For now, Bridge Over Troubled Water redux will have to do.
For the Roundtable, I'm Ian Pickus.