WHEN YOU talk about Simon and Garfunkel and their "Concert in Central Park" (Warner Bros. 3654), you're talking about a television package.
Admittedly, it's a bit more polished than your typical late-night offering, but the concept is essentially the same: "Remember those great songs from the '60s? Remember Paul's and Art's solo efforts from the '70s? Well, they got together again in the '80s for the benefit of 500,000 New Yorkers who haven't had much to be nostalgic about. And, they haven't been selling all that many records separately. So order your double album now and get a free 12-page booklet! And already seen on Home Box Office in your upscale neighborhood: The Film of the Concert!!"
Actually, most of the songs on this elaborate set stand up surprisingly well. In most cases, there's been little alteration, and the tight backing band is thankfully unobtrusive. The voices of Simon and Garfunkel retain that symbiotic ease that made them so refreshing all those years ago. The few songs that have been "updated"--"Kodachrome," "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover"--are simply punched up from wimpy originals. Is this album necessary? Not really. It's just the old folks at home. "We are more or less the same," Simon says in "The Boxer." He's right, of course.
Another longtime New Yorker, Lou Reed, has hardly been the same from album to album. These days he seems to be finding that things go better in the country. His new confessional, "The Blue Mask" (RCA AFL1-4221), is still crowded with the anxieties and despair of in-town living--witness "Waves of Fear," "The Gun," the twin-guitar interruptus of the title song--but a balance is achieved through such genial, lighthearted paeans as "Heavenly Arms" (to his wife), the hilarious "Average Guy," "Women" and "My House."
"My House" exemplifies the album's strengths and weaknesses--sparse arrangements and incautious poetry masquerading as lyrics. The song is about inviting the spirit of Reed's late friend, poet Delmore Schwartz, to stay on in the country home: Reed celebrates the "spirit of pure poetry" tempered by his newfound contentment. "I've really got a lucky life/My writing, my motorcycle and my wife," Reed intones in his afterthought voice. And he means it.
Another fascinating piece is "The Day John Kennedy Died," a haunting examination of a moment that, Reed asks us to believe, stayed with him for 20 years before he could transform it into song. It's either cathartic or annoying, depending on the degree of contrivance one reads into it; either way it justified Reed's career-long fatalism. "Blue Mask" is typically uneven, but attentive listening provides a roller-coaster effect with enough ups and downs to disquiet one's stomach--or one's mind.
Some folks still draw inspiration from New York angst; for instance, the Talking Heads. Like most bands that rode in on the New Wave in the late '70s, the Heads are an acquired taste, but they've managed to spice their music with change. This is abundantly evident on "The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads" (Sire 3590), a double live album that serves as history by showcasing three distinct stages in the band's growth. Songs from the group's four albums are scattered in the various settings.
The first record is drawn from a Massachusetts studio concert in 1977, augmented by a 1979 concert reflecting the steadying influence of producer Brian Eno. Side 1 is electric adrenalin in sparse settings, with the band's creative tension bursting through every groove. By the time Eno steps in, it's as if the Heads have come to their senses. Fortunately, by the 1980-81 world tour, the Heads have swelled from four to 10, growing from a band to an electric orchestra.
Tapes from New York and Tokyo concerts occupy the second volume and reflect head Head David Byrne's ongoing fascination with African music, and therefore with the polyrhythms that tend to dominate the later music. It's a wall of funk as thick as anything Phil Spector might have imagined, but it also obscures the original heart of darkness that beat through the Heads' material. Highlights include the early "Psycho Killer" and "Don't Worry About the Government," and "Take Me to the River" and "Life During Wartime" from more recent times. Still chilling after all these years: David Byrne's brittle, anxious vocals.