[I also invite you to read my previous review on Simon & Garfunkel – Sounds of Silence (1966), in order to better understand it]. What is really impressive with this New York duo that we almost don't need to introduce is that you will always find someone who will prefer a different album than yours. Indeed, Sounds of Silence (1966) to the last Bridge Over Troubled Water is a real no-fail that spans 4 albums of breathtaking quality. Here's why it's impossible to make a choice that would suit everyone. In January 1966, the duo Simon & Garfunkel came out of a kind of coma where nothing had worked for them so far. They were hit by the British Invasion wave and it wasn't until the genius idea of their producer Tom Wilson that the song Sounds of Silence became a launching pad with its Folk Rock version. Despite the number 1 on the Billboard charts, the first and significant album that logically bears the same name as the single will be less successful, which does not confirm all the doubts that there were about the duo. However, Simon & Garfunkel had at least one foot established in the music industry, they just had to ensure the second round, which they eventually succeeded in doing. It's a story of conviction and good choices. Simon & Garfunkel didn't waste any time, after the release of Sounds of Silence, the duo worked on their next album "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" for a few months to release it in October 1966. This time, the duo wanted to have more musical and artistic control and there is a certain extra mastery that distinguishes itself from the creative urgency of the previous album. As the duo was very far from being stupid, they simply kept the same formula as Sounds Of Silence, while progressing on their singularity. That is to say that "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" is once again oriented on a Folk Rock soul, which is essential, especially when Pop Rock continues to gain in trend and market share. The same goes for the contribution and the revisiting of the acoustic songs that were present in the famous Paul Simon Songbook, a gold mine that had to be exploited. "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" will be more successful than its predecessor, while supporting the singles Homeward Bound (present in this one) but also highlighting I Am a Rock (present in Sounds of Silence) as a kind of second life.
It's a real winning move, since the duo knew how to stay authentic, creative and reach while reaching the recognition. As a result, Simon & Garfunkel are going to play a lot of concerts, first on university spots and then on TV shows. As usual the duo went straight back to work on their next album, as it was contractually essential to release at least 2 albums a year at that time. But things didn't go as planned, because Paul Simon (the main songwriter) was going to go through a terrible period, literally handicapped by the lack of creativity. That's why Bookends will be released only in April 1968, almost one year and a half after the previous one, which for the time was just rare. As a result, their label Columbia started to put pressure on the duo, first incorporating John Simon as a new producer. It wasn't until their famous and revitalizing performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, in the middle of Summer Of Love, that they began to find their creativity again. In addition, the duo was approached by film director Mike Nichols, who wanted Simon & Garfunkel to write some music for his upcoming film The Graduate (1967). After several attempts it is finally the cultism Mrs. Robinson which will be validated, what will make them great service for the continuation of their career and in particular the future success of Bookends.
Bookends was therefore recorded in a tally, with rather impressive means compared to the average in order to boost their creativity. It took hundreds of hours of work to achieve this. Most of the album was made from October 1967 to March 1968, including a few songs not selected for the movie The Graduate like Overs and Punky's Dilemma. Bookends is distinguished first of all by its unique concept for the time, which stages the journey of a human life from beginning to end. The concept works in cycles and also demonstrates a particularly real American vision. It is also important to understand that Bookends also symbolizes a certain revival of Folk music since it was beginning to fade from the musical circuit. Indeed, the folk movement was weakening, Bob Dylan had already done the trick with his Folk Rock trilogy (first prototype), the Beatles and the Byrds had explored other paths and finally it was necessary to build new perspectives for the future of the genre and it is Bookends that becomes the roots of it (although one can consider "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" as equally important). In fact, Simon & Garfunkel, also helped by producer Roy Halee (who took over from John Simon in 1968) took control of the production, giving another dimension to Folk music, incorporating multiple additional layers, a sophistication of poetry but also weaving a Chamber Folk approach, a sub style they pioneered.
The album opens with a mini acoustic guitar ballad defining the stage of childhood through innocence, but very quickly Save the Life of My Child takes over as a kind of dive into reality, life. This one is marked by the direct impact of the Moog synthesizer, an oppressive (and futuristic) jolt that comes to illustrate the rather nihilistic vision of the subject, a deep social disarray of a more modest part of the population. I admire the almost paradoxical contrast of the beginning, as if the introduction translated the thought of the child, while Save the Life of My Child is placed in the anguish of the parents that his child grows up in a hostile context. The album finally evolves like a book without chapter, staged by fades without transition. The song America arrives quietly, years ahead of its time. It sounds like a song from the first half of the 70s. America is one of the greatest songs in the duo's repertoire, featuring a romantic adventure of a young couple traveling the country. Overs then marks the end of the romance, with an acoustic ballad as sweet as it is heartbreaking, witnessing a marriage where there is no more love. We also notice via Overs that the "close harmony" formula of the duo has evolved, like most of the album, towards more complementary vocal sections that act more in interactivity rather than in something more mutual. Voices of Old People is an interlude with several grouped discussions of elderly people in a retirement home, logically symbolizing old age. This interlude introduces Old Friends, a perfectly orchestrated song that shows all the characteristics of Chamber Folk. It is necessary to be aware of the emotional power of this song, as if the elderly people saw the end coming and remembered memories of a life, of a friendship, of a first love.
Unlike the first part, the B-side is no longer part of the concept and presents just a handful of songs. I think finally that it is a good idea to have been able to propose 2 sides because it is very complicated to ally the concept while carrying out that perfect songs. For the blow, we find in the B side, the whole of the singles released before as Mrs. Robinson, one of the biggest classic Folk Pop, A Hazy Shade of Winter a catchy and thrilling Folk Rock and to finish At The Zoo, an acoustic caress which articulates around psychedelic sonority. That's not all, since comes to add the excellent Fakin It, a lesson of writing which shows again the whole genius of Paul Simon. Let's say that Bookends is successful and complete by what the sides offer. Side A is conceptual and particularly realized, we dive into a concise adventure that touches you deeply. On the other hand, Side B doesn't take any risk but it is formidable by the quality of the songs, it was impossible to do without a more conventional approach and a moment as memorable as Mrs. Robinson for example. To note also this winning choice to make albums of less than 30 minutes in order to draw all its quintessence.