Surprise

Studio Album by released in 2006
Surprise's tracklist:
How Can You Live in the Northeast?
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Everything About It Is a Love Song
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Outrageous
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Sure Don't Feel Like Love
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Wartime Prayers
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Beautiful
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I Don't Believe
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Another Galaxy
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Once Upon a Time There Was an Ocean
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That's Me
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Father and Daughter
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Surprise review

Surprise proved to be well worth the wait

As a master craftsman of song, Paul Simon takes his time between albums. Surprise arrived six years after its 2000 predecessor You’re The One, but proved to be well worth the wait. In the realization of a process that was already beginning on that earlier album, Surprise fully assimilates the international influences of Graceland and Rhythm Of The Saints into a style that's equally polyrhythmic yet indebted to no lone cultural tradition. There's never been any disputing Paul Simon's status as one of the rock era's great songwriters. But when it comes time to recording those songs, he's always been at his best when teamed with a foil, whether it be erstwhile partner Art Garfunkel or collaborators like Ladysmith Black Mambazo (who partnered with him on Graceland). Here, Simon calls upon a new teammate, one that, not to pun on the disc's title, comes as something of a surprise. м has recruited producer Brian Eno, a master of ambient sound who's brought out new facets in just about everyone he's worked with, from U2 to David Bowie – a streak he continues here. Lyrically, Surprise makes its post-9/11 and post-Katrina allusions clearly but subtly, joining with the electro-acoustic musical approach in making this an album of, but not bound to, its time.

The graceful, introspective songs are ideally suited for Eno's tinkering

Though Eno might be a somewhat surprising choice for the 64-year-old Simon to work with, the 16-time Grammy winner and Rock And Roll Hall of Famer says he's been a longtime fan of Eno and that the two of them hit it off when they met at a London dinner party. The graceful, introspective songs that Simon pulled together for Surprise are ideally suited for Eno's tinkering, ranging from the angular Outrageous, which alternates whisper and scream sections with aplomb, to the ethereal That's Me, a wisp of a tune that brings out the most poignant notes in Simon's voice. The singer has, for now at least, shelved his penchant for serving up aural comfort food. Instead, he brings some of his most challenging notions to the table, such as the lean, emotionally devastating lyrics of the gospel-tinged Wartime Prayers and the acerbic self-assessments of Sure Don't Feel Like Love, which Eno wraps in a groove that somehow reconciles the diametrically opposed funk approaches of Bo Diddley and David Byrne.

Simon is as restless and ambitious as he was at his popular and creative peak

Surprise is consistently engaging and offers some of Simon's most creative songs in two decades. Eno brings a tangible sonic resonance to the material, woven through with unconventional song structures and gorgeous acoustic guitar progressions. Six-strings reverberate and wash away in a haze, and drums are tweaked with electronic effects, while Simon's signature voice, often slipping into a heartwarming falsetto, floats effortlessly through the empty spaces. Simon also remains an evocative storyteller, whether assaying the joys of family (Beautiful), reaching out to soldiers' families (Wartime Prayers) or admitting his enduring vanity (the funky, humorous Outrageous). Surprise includes guest appearances by guitarist Bill Frisell, drummer Steve Gadd and pianist Herbie Hancock, who recorded Simon's I Do It For Your Love on his 2005 album, Possibilities. Unlike such deservedly praised comeback albums from some of his peers – such as Dylan's Love and Theft, The Rolling Stones' A Bigger Bang, Paul McCartney's Chaos and Creation in the Backyard – Simon doesn't achieve his comeback by reconnecting with the sound and spirit of his classic work; he has achieved it by being as restless and ambitious as he was at his popular and creative peak, which makes Surprise all the more remarkable.