July 7, 2006
Songs from the Capeman

This past month, my favorite musical artist--Paul Simon--released his latest album, Surprise. In preparation for the new album, I began going back through my Paul Simon collection to listen to his last two albums--which I had downloaded on my iPod but never listened to in full.

While his last work--the 2000 You're the One--had several tracks on it that have become favorites of mine, I had always skipped most of the songs from Songs from The Capeman when they popped up on my iPod...they just didn't make much sense on their own.

Then I listened to the album as a whole, and I gained a new appreciation for the work. But this blog isn't meant to be simply a recommendation for the merits of Paul Simon's music--my point is that Songs from the Capeman is a perfect example of an album that actually works as an album, as opposed to most other Paul Simon CDs--or anyone else's.

The album consists of various numbers from Simon's ill-fated Broadway production The Capeman, which lost $11 million and tanked on stage due to a variety of bad reviews. However, the reviews never attacked Simon's music, and the CD shines as a storytelling device. Of course most of the tracks didn't mean much on their own when you divide them up on shuffle, but the album--when I listened to it as a whole--told a compelling and multifaceted perspective on the true story of the life of convicted murderer Salvador Agron, who was the leader of a Puerto Rican gang called The Vampires and who murdered two boys in Hell's Kitchen.

Again, while the stage musical may have not gone well, the CD works as a fairly cohesive storytelling device on its own. And it's one of the rare cases where purchasing a whole album not only makes sense but is almost essential, since most of the tracks can't be enjoyed in isolation. I know there are other examples of albums that really work only as albums, but this struck me as a reminder that--even with the iTunes drive toward single tracks--that we can't forget that there is still compelling storytelling potential in a full album, even if its a potential rarely utilized by songwriters and record companies.