Monday, May 23rd, 2016

Paul Simon – Wristband

A man walks down the street…


Rebecca A. Gowns: Paul Simon is one of those singer-songwriters who seemed to have ancient wisdom as a kid, and, as an older artist, maintains an air of youthful irreverence. Not that the sound is current; no, it sounds like a late ’90s commercial for ice cream. This is not at all hip, but it calls upon that-which-used-to-be-hip — and in doing so without any embarrassment, he comes back around to cool again.

Patrick St. Michel: I’m fully in favor of well-established artists spending their later years writing songs about wacky club-related mishaps. Embrace your dad-ness!

Brad Shoup: We caught him live last week; it was Raffi for baby boomers. Which is to say we had a great time in the company of pop’s least angry songwriter. “Wristband” couches its solidarity with the 1 per cent as the punchline to an extended joke about being a rock star. Simon chews the title to a pulp: the word, the concept, it’s all funny to him. The band sustains a jazzy holding pattern, punctuated with variety-show horns. There’s no guitar because its player is on the wrong side of the door, you see.

Taylor Alatorre: For all the restless energy of the backing rhythms and the lithe turns in Simon’s vocals, the prevailing mood is one of stagnation rather than dynamism. The panoply of sound soon reveals itself to be a limited (and limiting) palette; nothing progresses or is resolved. This helps sell the allegory of social dislocation wrought by the hoarding of privilege, but at the expense of certain pop virtues like immediacy and replayability. Would make for an excellent Times op-ed, though.

Anthony Easton: Paul Simon’s politics have always been more than a little superficial — though not any more superficial than MIA’s — but he always knows which rhythm section to hire. People have been saying this is radical, but it’s not like he’s seeking out Chief Keef. (Dear Mr. Simon, please hire Chief Keef. ) I like Clap! Clap! here quite a bit but the narrative is forced and the storytelling seems obvious and facile. I’m disappointed, considering that the last album featured some of the strongest work of his career.  

Alfred Soto: Rhymin’ Simon puts “wristband” and “my man” together, and if listeners don’t like it they can get off the bus, Gus. But he and producer Clap! Clap! chase sneakier prey: a joke about rock star privilege deepens. Access denied + fun deferred = political voice silenced. As usual Simon’s wry, abashed vocal palliates the smugness.

Jonathan Bradley: Precocity is the price of admission with Paul Simon, the songwriter who labors to produce metaphorical menageries like “Orangutans are skeptical of changes in their cages.” Here, our narrator finds himself shut out of his own show and learns that the wristband was inside himself all along society has its own backstage passes too. A jazzy bassline, which doesn’t sound too much like it should accompany the opening titles of a three-camera sitcom, helps lighten the lesson, and at least the narrative acknowledges that the singer is Paul freakin’ Simon: “I don’t need a wristband/My axe is on the bandstand.” It’s brief enough to leave me wanting more, and the polyrhythms and fanfares stop me wondering why anyone might “breathe some nicotine” when he could simply smoke a cigarette.

Jer Fairall: Having recently cited a fondness for some classic S&G, please allow me to now air some grievances against the solo Simon: “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” is the worst single of the ’70s; Graceland is the ur-text for Vampire Weekend, plus it’s boring. If I don’t consider him to be the most overrated of the boomer giants, it is only because millennial music nerds tend to be far less effusive about his genius than they are about Brian Wilson’s. Far from challenging any of the above, “Wristband” sums up Simon’s solo career for me: a nothing song that tags some vague social commentary onto an otherwise cutesy lyrical conceit, blandly sung and performed with punishing tastefulness.

Jessica Doyle: “Wristband” is probably not meant as self-mockery — from what I’ve heard, Paul Simon is probably the last person to make fun of Paul Simon insisting on his own importance — or as a sequel to “Late in the Evening.” But like Giselle Nguyen (albeit under very different circumstances), I grew up associating Simon’s work and Simon’s voice with home and comfort, and so even his noodling around feels like the scratchy brown couch in front of the orthagonal coffee table where my father usually left books on the Battle of Shiloh, under diagonal streaks of late afternoon sun.

Hannah Jocelyn: Unlike Bob Dylan, now on album number two of Sinatra covers, and unlike Billy Joel, now on concert number 28 of his Madison Square Garden residency, Paul Simon has remained committed to his craft for the last half-century. That said, I’m not as familiar with his post “and-Garfunkel” career as I probably should be, so the frisky production, complete with horns, handclaps, and scatting feels like both a welcome surprise and eventually a natural evolution. The lyrics are fast and playful; a line comparing a bouncer to “St Peter standing guard at the pearly… wristband” is especially inspired. Even the last verse, where Simon examines his privilege in the context of the riots and protests that have dominated this election year, improves the song rather than sinks it.

A.J. Cohn: While the connection Paul Simon draws between having to deal with a bouncer who doesn’t recognize him and social inequity is more than a little tenuous, the song is otherwise strong, thanks to excellent production by Clap! Clap! and an especially good bass line.

Katie Gill: Signs, signs, everywhere a sign. That fun, bouncy instrumentation is what saves a song we’ve heard time and time before — and, based on how Paul lazily travels through the vocals, a song that he’s sung time and time before.

Scott Mildenhall: Studio Killers closed the book on songs with near enough this precise theme, if not ones that end up as an insurgent call to arms by a millionaire to an audience he should hope are not predominantly cynics. It’s fine though, because cynicism is, of course, boring, and thankfully this isn’t: Clap! Clap!’s “digital dance grooves” make apposite backing for Simon’s rambles — although it is those that save them from being dull, rather than the other way around.

Cassy Gress: I’m one of those 30-something kids who grew up solidly middle class and became an adult only to discover that the middle class didn’t really exist anymore. You’d think that the last verse, about disaffected kids in the heartland who can’t afford social or class mobility, would speak to me. Instead, I find myself wishing that this really just was a song about an old legend shaking his fist at those damn kids and their wristbands; I sort of feel like his generation has had their turn at this, and now it should be ours.

Reader average: [8.19] (5 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

9 Responses to “Paul Simon – Wristband”

  1. Jer: millennials are wayyyy more effusive about Wilson’s genius.

    Simon’s been the most melodic of the boomer giants, even more than McCartney.

  2. “Graceland is the ur-text for Vampire Weekend”

    the fact that Jer writes this as if it’s a self-evidently bad thing is pretty damning (and seems bigoted in the dictionary sense). I thought reflexive VW hate was a thing of the past. they’re a good pop band!

    btw all the folks here who confess to not being entirely up on solo Paul Simon should check out the marvelously eclectic and textural self-titled album.

  3. As for this song, it’s defiantly a trifle, and a weird choice for a lead single/track. I don’t mind it at all, but I don’t think I would enjoy an entire album in this mode.

  4. Yes there is so much good Paul Simon solo work out there! Get to it!

  5. His first solo album is a masterpiece. That’s what made me write, “Eh, fuck McCartney.”

  6. Reg (cute, btw),

    My VW “bigotry” is not reflexive; I’ve heard all three of their albums. Plus, they’re a controversial act ’round these parts; check out how their 5-6 range scores are typically a result of a pull between the fans and the haters (and as generally disdainful as I am of them, I did write a mildly positive review of “Ya Hey” here). So, read my diss, if you will, as a reference to the ongoing discussion that’s taken place on the site over the last few years.

  7. I was so close to mentioning Vampire Weekend in my blurb, but ultimately decided against it because I didn’t want to reveal myself to be a millennial cliche this early in the game. Well, the secret’s out now

    (“Step” was my favorite song of 2013 btw)

  8. to Jer’s point: I loathe Alicia Keys and consider her singles guilty until proven innocent. Of course it’s a bias – critics are supposed to be biased.

  9. I completely dig the premise, the bop, and the right-hand turn the songs takes into social commentary. But it ends at least two stanzas before it should to be taken seriously. A real disappointment and a lost chance to really speak about what’s going on in the US these days. I hope Simon’s live performances extend the song.