What's this? A new Paul Simon album with no lofty aspirations attached? No tongue kissing of South African culture? No Brazilian drum corps? No theatrical overload? Yep, You're the One is as simple as they come, and it's Simon's most straightforward album since 1983's Hearts and Bones. Not that his overachiever endeavors of the past 15 years haven't kept him busy: Graceland (1986), of course, is Simon's globe-trotting masterpiece; its thematic follow-up, The Rhythm of the Saints (1990), merely substituted another corner of the world; and 1997's Songs From the Capeman was a critical and commercial failure. Perhaps that's why You're the One sounds so relaxed in its breezy tales of love, faith, and aging. These are familiar themes for Simon (musically, he scans recognizable territory as well -- bits of doo-wop and world-influenced percussion fire many of the songs), but never has he been so casual in their reading of them. One has to go back 25 years, all the way to Still Crazy After All These Years, to find a Simon album so comfortable in its low-key reserve.
Still, that 15-year ambition did pay off. Simon works well on a huge scale; Graceland and Saints were genuinely exciting albums. You're the One holds few thrills. But its humble return to Simon's singer-songwriter roots makes it amiable nonetheless. Self-produced with refreshing restraint, You're the One works best when Simon reflects on life. "That's Where I Belong," the playful "Old" (in which Simon addresses his own approaching senior-citizen years), and the lovely album closer "Quiet" offer unfussy and uncomplicated adult pop songs about the big picture. You're the One is no big deal, which is the way Simon wants it. And there's something quite inspirational about it being so small.