Noteworthy CDs

Paul Simon - Surprise (Warner Bros.): Paul Simon is the victim of his own successes. His recent solo efforts - 1990's "Rhythm of the Saints" or 2000's "I'm the One" - would be solid entries in anyone's catalog. But this isn't any musician; Simon is one of rock's top songwriters. And both came on the heels of "Graceland," his greatest album in a greatest-hits career. "Surprise" may not be singles-friendly in an iPod world, but it reestablishes what Simon does best: mood and melody, song and story. He returns as the sage, seasoned by time. "How Can You Live in the Northeast?," the opening track, is a reminder that the things that divide us are manmade. The graying man in the up-tempo "Outrageous" discovers that God still loves you "when your looks are gone." "Wartime Prayers" is a psalm crying out for the true voice of the Almighty in a time of religious zeal. "Surprise" is the fruit of a man who has lived richly, now looking more up than back. No surprise there. Grade: A-
- David S. Hauck

The Red Hot Chili Peppers - Stadium Arcadium (Warner Bros.): It's back to bass-ics for The Red Hot Chili Peppers. After 2002's subdued "By the Way" album, the band has rediscovered its funk mojo. Flea, the kinetic bassist who, true to his name, does a lot of leaping on stage, comes to the fore, his four-stringed instrument bobbing, weaving, and cartwheeling in tandem with Chad Smith's propulsive drumming. (The bass on "21st Century" threatens to trigger seismic activity.) Half of "Stadium Arcadium," an album of 28 songs, recalls the funk-rock and balladry of early hits "Give It Away" and "Under the Bridge." Elsewhere, John Frusciante puts the electric back into the electric guitar on "Readymade" and "She's Only 18," tunes that recall the great pop-rock of 1999's "Californication." Anthony Kiedis is, alas, more concerned with making rhymes than sense in his lyrics, but that doesn't spoil the album's good-time vibe. Grade: B+
- Stephen Humphries

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