Though he recorded the album's prominent percussion tracks in Brazil, Paul Simon fashioned The Rhythm of the Saints as a deliberate follow-up to the artistic breakthrough and commercial comeback that was the South Africa-tinged Graceland. Several of the musicians who had appeared previously were back, along with some of the New York session players who had worked with Simon in the 1970s, and the overall sound was familiar to fans of Graceland. Further, Simon's nonlinear lyrical approach was carried over: he continued to ruminate about love, aging, and the onslaught of modern life in disconnected phrases and images that created impressions rather than telling straightforward stories. But where Graceland had seamlessly merged its styles into an exuberant whole, The Rhythm of the Saints was less well digested. Those drum tracks never seemed integrated effectively into what had been dubbed over them; at the same time, they tended to lock the songs into musical patterns that reined them in from the kind of excitement the South African music on Graceland generated, making the melodies harder to grasp. At the same time, Simon sang his lyrics in a less involved way, which sometimes made them seem like collections of random lines rather than the series of striking observations Graceland seemed to contain. No Paul Simon album could be lacking in craft or quality, and The Rhythm of the Saints was a typically tasteful effort. But this time around, Simon hadn't quite succeeded in bringing the wide-ranging elements together; the album sold about half as many copies as Graceland (that is to say, a none-too-shabby two million), and that's about right -- where Graceland was an exotic adventure, The Rhythm of the Saints was more of an anthropology lesson.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann