Graceland – 25th Anniversary Edition By Paul Simon
Review by Douglas Heselgrave
I get so much mail every day that sometimes when I hear the postman coming, I want to run in the other direction. I’ve got stacks of CDs that arrived months ago that I haven’t even opened yet, and a rubber bucket full of padded envelopes and boxes whose contents are a total mystery to me. So, it takes a lot to get my attention, and the enormous box that was delivered by Fedex just the other day did just that.
I knew that the Paul Simon Graceland 25th anniversary set was coming in the mail for review, but I thought there must have been some kind of mistake on the label when a huge box was dropped at the door. How could a simple CD reissue take up so much space and require such a huge container to ship it? But, once I’d cleared away the bubble wrap, cardboard and tape, the answer became clear as I pulled out what must be the beautiful box set ever crafted.
Held together in a sturdy slipcase emblazoned with the original ‘Graceland’ graphic, the anniversary box set contains a beautifully illustrated book that follows the Graceland story from its inception right through to the world tour that included a history making jaunt through Africa. Other features include an attractive album poster and a facsimile notebook of lyrics that Simon jotted down in the studio during the recording of the album.
The set also includes two DVDs, ‘The African Concert’ a concert film shot in Zimbabwe during the Graceland tour of 1987, and ‘Under African Skies’, a documentary by Joe Berlinger about the recording of ‘Graceland’ and the lasting influence it has had on popular music. In the most interesting and poignant section of this film, Berlinger accompanies Simon back to South Africa, 25 years after he first became acquainted with the country’s musical culture and heritage.
In the end, however beautiful the trappings of this kind of box set are, once all the bells and whistles have been examined and enjoyed, it still all comes down to the music. The good news is that twenty-five years later, the songs on ‘Graceland’ have endured very well. Sure, there are a few jarring period sounds like the synthesizers on ‘You Can Call Me Al’ and ‘Boy in the Bubble’ that haven’t aged gracefully, but ‘Homeless’, ‘Graceland’, ‘Diamonds on the Souls of her Shoes’ and so many more of the songs on the album sound just as good as they did when they first came out.
A second bonus CD features some alternate versions of album tracks and an audio interview with Paul Simon.
As one would expect with a product of this kind, the Graceland 25th anniversary box set is heavily tilted towards celebration and rather slim in the critical appraisal department. There is no discussion of the pressure that was exerted on Simon to give the African songwriters credit for their contributions to the music (which he eventually did) or the ongoing feud with members of Los Lobos who believe that he stole the music to ‘The Myth of Fingerprints’ from them without proper compensation or credit. To the producer of this anniversary edition’s credit, the ‘Under African Skies’ documentary does provide some context to the release of ‘Graceland,’ by indicating that Simon was not working in a vacuum. In a series of interviews, the film acknowledges the work that other artists such as David Byrne and Peter Gabriel had done earlier that creatively integrated African sounds into their music.
Such criticisms aside, ‘Graceland’ is still one of the most important popular music albums to be released in the past twenty-five years. It may be difficult for us now to remember a time when world music rhythms hadn’t become integrated into western popular music or to appreciate the impact ‘Graceland’ had when it first came out. For Paul Simon’s hardcore fans, those drawn to a first class reissue of a classic album, or people who simply appreciate fine design and packaging, the 25thanniversary box set of ‘Graceland’ is unlikely to be bested any time soon.
This posting also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com
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