The album “Seven Psalms”, the luminous prayer of Paul Simon

Paul Simon, during his last tour, in 2018.

The idea would have come to him in a dream. Paul Simon woke up one day with this imperious call: “You are now working on something called ‘Seven Psalms’. (Seven Psalms, in English) »he explains in an upcoming documentary, In Restless Dreams, directed by Alex Gibney, dedicated to what became his new album. Several other nights would then have given him the key words to put together to give birth to this reflection on aging and death, in seven movements of touching and luminous depth.

Strangely, Nick Cave had released a mini-album of the same title, in April 2022, but the seven declaimed chants echoed the prolonged mourning of the Australian singer, inconsolable after the loss of his sons Arthur and Jethro. Five years after giving what he announced as his last concert, Paul Simon, 81, seems to be closer to the existential questions that inhabited Leonard Cohen in the album You Want It Darker (2016), published a few weeks before his death at the age of 82.

The two octogenarians share a taste for biblical references, as pop metaphysicians raised in Judaism (even if Cohen’s writing was more steeped in Talmudic sources), and the need to return to the acoustic stripping of their beginnings. But the final album of the Canadian singer, doomed by illness, resounded with a twilight seriousness.

Maelstrom of inspirations

If Simon perceives the end of the journey, this meditative disc bears witness to as much audacity as vivacity. As the inevitable epilogue approaches, the American singer affirms it in Wait : “Wait, I’m not ready (…)/ My hand’s steady/My mind is still clear » (“Wait, I’m not ready (…)/ My hand is steady/ My mind is still clear”).

To echo the dreamlike origin of this disc, the singer-guitarist has chosen to string together his seven movements in one go. In the era of streaming and listening title by title, the thirty-three minutes of Seven Psalms ask the listener to let themselves be overwhelmed, without pause.

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For several decades, the former partner of Art Garfunkel had taken the habit of enriching his discographic projects with concepts and arrangements drawing on a maelstrom of inspirations – South African for graceland (1986), Brazilian for The Rhythm of the Saints (1990), Afro-Cubans for Songs From the Capeman (1997)… Seven Psalms, him, is essentially built around an acoustic guitar. Other instruments (gong, cello, viola, flute, organ, etc.) and musicians (including the British vocal ensemble Voces8) are invited, but by keys, all going towards the outline.

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