Unlike previous highly regarded works such as ‘Graceland’ and ‘The Rhythm of the Saints’, ‘You’re the One’ is an album with few world-music or conceptual influences, rather it re-introduces us to the Paul Simon of old, back to the era where a more recognised singer/songwriter style prevailed.
One could hardly describe ‘You’re the One’ as conventional however, and certainly not in terms of the instruments featured throughout. Whilst the majority of the pieces are guitar and percussion heavy, one also encounters celeste, bamboo flute, 96-tone harp, pump reed organ and pedal steel gong on the eleven-track journey from ‘That’s Where I Belong’ to ‘Quiet’.
The closing piece is aptly named, especially as it is by far the… err… quietest piece on the entire album; elsewhere there are complex rhythm passages, driving bass-lines and sharp, solo guitar.
Then we have the unmistakable vocal talent of Paul Simon himself, his delivery running the gamut of what could almost pass for a tune to nothing more than a rambling, spoken lead. Moreover, the lyrical style of the piece is classic Simon; at times his libretto is insightful at others downright mediocre, almost as if he’s desperately trying to think of a rhyme, any rhyme. Who else could come up with lyrics that feature a pig that commits the perfect crime, Goldilocks and the three bears and someone who falls asleep in a washing machine? Obviously you, the listener, are supposed to find the hidden meaning in Simon’s words, but at times the exercise proves to be a painful experience, which may at least in part be deliberate.
There are however, distinct highlights, those moments where Simon decides to abandon the monotone mumbling and concentrate on meaningful lyrical phrases. ‘The Teacher’ is one example and as a result, for this reviewer at least, becomes the album’s standout track. ‘Seсorita with a Necklace of Tears’ and ‘Love’ also demonstrate Simon hasn’t completely lost his touch; the two run into one another so naturally that although there is a definite change of mood, the progression is deceptively subtle and wholly natural.
As you would expect, world-music influences are not entirely absent and there are some wonderfully infectious, almost tribal rhythms on-hand, most noticeably during ‘Hurricane Eye’. Simon even manages a brief Egyptian lyrical phrase as part of the title track’s chorus.
Musically therefore, ‘You’re the One’ is an album of contrasts, some tracks left me cold while others had the exact opposite affect; there are glimpses of that old Simon genius and they alone are worth the price of admission.
I have equally mixed feelings about the DVD-Audio disc itself. On the one hand the fidelity on offer is (on the whole) excellent, demonstrated ably by the driving, deep and forceful bass-lines delivered by an active LFE channel together with a transparent conveyance of guitars, percussion and brass. ‘The Teacher’ especially has great three-dimensional depth which itself is punctuated by sharp, transient guitar in a wholly convincing way. As for flaws, well, the opening track’s LFE is a little disjointed and at times the mid-bass somewhat claustrophobic, but both are really only minor niggles.
Conversely, the surround presentation represents an opportunity wasted. While technically speaking all six channels are in use, the surrounds convey little more than low-level ambience, while the centre provides a subtle, image-width-reducing blend between front left/right. Aside from a low-level panning effect during the opening bars of ‘The Teacher’, neither the surrounds nor the centre add anything significant to the mix or convey any unique content. When one considers the material’s potential given the exciting and innovative use of percussion, especially in light of the Blue Man Group’s ‘Audio’, one quickly beings to realise that the multi-channel mix is nothing more than a hastily concocted compromise. It is clear from the outset that it has simply been created from the two-channel original using a basic ‘DSP’ processor to extract and route ambience to the rear, a disappointing and rather lazy solution from the Gateway mastering team responsible.
As is often the case with Warner Bros. titles, the disc also contains a two-channel mix – it is a higher-resolution copy of the CD’s content – plus Dolby Digital and DTS DVD-Video compatible alternatives to the MLP. Both perform well, but are noticeably compressed when compared to the loss-less track, both in terms of dynamic range and instrument clarity. For those wishing to directly compare the three audio formats, approximately four minutes into the disc’s second song, ‘Darling Lorraine’, you’ll find a delicate percussive undertone which highlights the advantages of the DVD-Audio layer.
Disc extras are few and far between, just a still-frame Paul Simon biography and a set of performer/production crew credits. Those miserly old Warner Brothers couldn’t even give us a taster of Simon’s ‘You’re the One’ live in Paris performance, which is also currently available on DVD-Video – yet another opportunity wasted.