The two best songs, the title track and "Darling Lorraine," are immediate and sharp (though the latter borrows liberally from Graceland's "Crazy Love" and title track). "Lorraine" chronicles the highs, lows, and grim finale of a marriage like a musical John Updike novel; "You're the One" glides on the insistent hook of Simon's melody and the Downy-soft playing of guitarist Vincent Nguini (a musical foil for Simon important enough to rival Art Garfunkel). Even while relying on drummer Steve Gadd to reintroduce a drum kit to globetrotter Simon's sound, the album --especially those songs -- remains on very friendly terms with the ticking of Brazilian and African percussion, which is to the good.
Ask somebody to love you/You got a lot of nerve, Simon sings on "Look at That," one of the album's slightest numbers. The verses compare marriage -- They close their eyes and now their dreams are legal -- to the flight of an eagle -- Over the mountain, the eagle flies/Through clouds of fire ... you can't believe it. Simon has salvaged worse metaphors before, but the chorus of "Look at That" squanders anything compelling the song has built up. And like too many of these new songs, it ends abruptly. Two songs later, the stately "Love" wanders away from its "burning temples" and "weeping cathedrals" to burp the sub-Brian Wilson banality We crave it (love) so badly/Makes you want to laugh out loud when you receive it/And gobble it like candy. It's a sharp left turn from the poetic grace of 1990's Rhythm of the Saints. It's even pretty far removed from the structure and focus of the poorly executed Capeman. Simon seems to realize that his first solo project in a decade is tentative. His singing on "Pigs, Sheep, and Wolves" is uncharacteristically rubbery, even if it's not especially funny to hear him slur He's a half-a-ton of pig meat. And the first and last songs overcompensate, stretching their appealing quietude to hymnal solemnity. Given Simon's self-criticism, it might have made everybody happy if he'd stitched the words to Hearts and Bones' good half to the pristine production and playing of You're the One.