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4.8 out of 5 stars377
4.8 out of 5 stars
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This Grammy Award-winning album from 1986 is usually considered to be Paul Simon's crowning achievement in a stellar career with many high-points. His peerless songwriting and poignant lyrics are fused with intelligent use of folk and brass instruments: Zulu Mbaqanga rhythms, the Ladysmith Black Mambazo choir showcasing their a capella style, plus the Zydeco creole music of Louisiana; the Everly Brothers, Linda Ronstadt and Los Lobos also feature in cameo performances. It's absolutely gorgeous and hasn't aged a day in 26 years.

The album works best when listened to as a whole experience, rather than sampled track by downloaded track - like having a full meal rather than just eating the beans one day, and the sauce on another occasion. Only when the whole is savoured and digested can the extraordinary blend of complimentary musical styles be appreciated, and the grand creation be enjoyed and fully understood.

Now the 1986 CD release was in every way superb, containing a dynamic range allowing for the subtleties of the unusual instrumentation and vocal combinations to shine, with plenty of light and shade. The 2004 `re-mastered' CD was overall `louder' than the earlier mix, lacked the depth and contrast of the original and was definitely not an improvement. Unfortunately this `25th anniversary remaster' (actually the 26th anniversary, not the 25th) CD is, if possible, even worse. It's another victim of the `loudness war' destroying the subtleties of thoughtful and complex music by compressing the dynamic range, resulting in little difference between loud and quiet sections, diminishing its emotional power and - compared to the 1986 original - making it a tiring experience for the listener. The dynamic range is so reduced by compression and clipping that the result is just loud: as with dance music, it's like being shouted at all the time. Greg Calbi, the engineer, has short-changed genuine music fans and diminished Paul Simon's masterpiece to a result that's just, well - DULL in comparison to what it should be.

Best advice is to stick to the 1986 CD release, if you can get a good copy. It's the real deal.
88 comments|71 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
It's quite baffling how studios get away with it in this day and age, yet the persistent efforts to make their albums as loud as is iPod-inducingling possible is frustrating, short changing even.

I need not mention that Graceland is a classic album, because it helped catalyse a faux-world music genre during the 1980's and, in the process, sought to take advantage of the new CD format. As such the original album is mixed beautifully, featuring production techniques that truly test the listeners dynamic range. The end result is an album that never tires; it sounds just as fresh today as what it did years ago.

This is partly the reason why it has been given a '25th Anniversary Edition' release, in order to celebrate its continued appeal. What a massive pity then that Warner Bros. decided to, quite literally, compress the music to death in order to make the recordings louder than they originally were, and in doing so, have squashed those legendary dynamics.

When comparing this release to the original CD from 1984, the results are baffling. Percussion instruments that were once audible are now a feint (or hollow) noise in the background, while the sounds around it are just a mash with little separation. 'I Know What I Know' and 'Gumboots' are the two biggest culprits, with the guitars less prominent in the mix and more subdued, thus making the songs sound less complex. Melodically they are still obvious, but the rhythm is completely altered.

'The Boy in the Bubble' has already been mentioned by another reviewer - the very first 'tom' strike about 8 seconds into the song was almost startling on the original album release as it was so much louder than the accordion. Yet in this edition, it is quite literally the same volume as the accordion before it...

What the hell?

The truth of the matter is that studios subject older albums to this kind of treatment because customers today are perceived as wanting everything loud. Digital mastering allows more control over how loud the final product is, and in order to retain the same volume between releases, old analogue masters such as this need cranking up. Obviously we're all too lazy to just, you know, 'turn up' the volume.

I have no doubt that some will read this review as being pedantic, but comparing the '84 release to this abomination is like night and day, and only serves to demonstrate how compression alters the original creative design. It will allow you to get a feel for what Graceland entails, but please, if you do decide that the album is a keeper, then get the original release and hear for yourself just how lush the recordings are.
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on 2 December 2011
Doing a waveform & audible analysis of my 1986 CD compared to this 2011 re-release, the results are shocking, absolutely massive compression has been applied to this in a race to the loudness wars, resulting in distortion & subtleties of the voices and instruments simply disappearing compared to the original. I am not an anti-remasterer, there are great remasters out there, but this is not one of them, stick to the 1986 CD if you want the best from this.
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on 15 June 2012
Although this was the third reincarnation of this album that I've bought ( I know what you're thinking,sucker!)', this is definately the best. Sound quality is much improved over the last 'remastered' offering. Why couldn't they have gotten it right the first time? The bonus tracks are also worth the inclusion, especially the insrumental demo of 'Crazy Love'. Love the sound of the guitaring. If you love the music of Paul Simon, and especially this album, then upgrading to this copy is a must!!
0Comment|44 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 10 October 2012
I bought this CD after seeing a recent TV programme about Paul Simon actually making this LP. I realised that I missed my old LP and hearing this glorious music. However, as several reviewers have said, the sound is poor and does not give the atmosphere and impact of the original recording. A few of the later tracks do improve in sound quality, but I shall listen to this CD in the car where the mediocre sound doesn't matter too much.
0Comment|6 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 9 July 2012
I cherish my original vinyl LP album and play it 'very' infrequently, relying instead on an audio cassette which must be on it's last legs it's been played so much. Watching BBC's 'Imagine' last week I was stirred into looking for this album. Ordered before I headed for bed, it has just been delivered.

The audio quality is astounding, simply astounding! EVERYTHING you could want it to be and more. Crisp, clean and full. Not a click or hiss, wonderfully remastered... Buy it, you will not regret it.... I'm still crazy after all these years....
0Comment|4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 1 September 2012
Graceland is a classic album that every music lover should own. From the opening track The Boy In The Bubble to the closing track All Around The World Or The Myth Of Fingerprints this album is bursting with great songs. Paul Simon took a huge risk by travelling to South Africa and recording with local musicians when apartheid was in full flow, and an economic and cultural embargo had been placed on the country. The risk certainly paid off; Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes is simply joyous, and the title track and You Can Call Me Al have great melodies. In its time this was groundbreaking stuff, the first time African rhythms and music had been mixed with western pop, and today it still sounds as fresh and vibrant as it ever did. Buy it, you will not be disappointed!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 31 August 2015
I'm reviewing the 2004 edition.

With none of the sound issues reported in the 25th Anniversary edition this is a superbly clear recording of arguably Paul Simon's most successful work. In a career nadir, Simon became fascinated by a loaned bootleg cassette from South Africa at a time when apartheid was still sullying that country. Managing to contact some of the players on that cassette and subsequent albums of South African music he was provided, he headed to South Africa during a time when the cultural and artistic ban was still in force to record six of the backing tracks featured on this album. Whilst this tainted the album for some, the counter argument was Simon was actually promoting these artists and bringing them to a wider audience, helping to break down the barriers. Which side of the fence you come down on I'll leave to you and concentrate on the music.

Largely ignored by his record company and quietly released with little fanfare, ironically that ambivalence bought him the artistic freedom to create a masterwork, weaving in World Music sounds and bringing it to public attention as much as Peter Gabriel did around the same time. Rave review after rave review followed, with the album winning a Grammy, ensuring wide recognition and success. Starting off with the marvellous accordion driven "The Boy In The Bubble" featuring beautiful rolling bass lines first time listeners would be quickly cognizant that something very original for the time was going on very quickly. There's big hit singles here, not least "You Can Call Me Al" with a great MTV generation video featuring Chevy Chase ensuring heavy airplay, but those are just the highlights of an album that is of consistent high quality. In this age of downloading it's less usual to listen to an album as a whole, but this one really repays listening. Great musicianship throughout, lyrically themes vary from the light to the serious socially aware without feeling as though it's preaching at all. In fact the overwhelming sound of the album is happy, for this is indeed very happy music. A first order classic and definitely Simon's key solo work.
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on 13 February 2002
This album will almost always figure in a "Best Albums Of All Time" poll. On its release in 1986 it became one of the highest selling albums of the 80s. This was for the simple reason that the African tinged pop music (any of which here could easily match the Simon & Garfunkel material) had never been done before. It's 1990 successor, the Rhythm Of The Saints, tried to continue in this vein but was nowhere near as successful. This is a classic. Buy it.
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on 22 August 2002
I can honestly say that this was the first album that i listened to over and over again, and still after the 4th time i was picking up lyrics and phrases that i had not heard before.
The music is lovely and crisp on the ear and is full of rythem and style that is sadly becoming lost in todays electric tunes.
Paul Simon has lost none of his style and panache in this, and it still stands out as one of the greatest and most loved albums of all time.
Simply perfect.
0Comment|15 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

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