Graded on a Curve:
Art Garfunkel,
Breakaway

It was blasted dastardly, the way Paul Simon gave poor Art Garfunkel the old heave-ho. Absolutely duplicitous. So duplicitous in fact that I coined a shiny new word for the sad fate that befell the kinky-haired half of the famous duo—he got Garfunkeled. The word is slowing entering the popular lexicon, and I plan to patent it and thereby grow filthy rich.

Because it’s the ideal word for all manner of occasions. Say your boyfriend should, without due warning, terminate your relationship. And say said abrupt news should fall upon your heart like a ton of Mick Jagger solo albums. You are left with two alternatives. You can shed bitter tears of the sort that wilt flowers. Or better by far, you can run to your friends and cry, “The sleazy bastard just Garfunkeled me!”

In any event, having been Garfunkeled following 1970’s Bridge over Troubled Water, Art of the magic golden Jewfro found himself at loose ends. I like to imagine, although it doesn’t fit the historical time line, that he spent many a dour hour sunk in the funk at the home of Jim Messina, the poor fellow who got Garfunkeled by Kenny Loggins. In reality Garfunkel did some acting, released 1973’s Angel Clare (for which he took much abuse for his treacly version of Randy Newman’s “Old Man”), and then followed Angel Clare with 1975’s Breakaway.

Breakaway is Garfunkel’s most successful LP and a soft rock classic. Garfunkel’s choirboy vocals can rankle, but on Breakaway he gathered up a bunch of songs that made effective use of those inimitable tenor pipes of his. He also dragooned every crack studio musician in the known world, to say nothing of such folks as David Crosby, Bill Payne, Graham Nash, Toni Tennille, and (erk!) Andrew Gold. Why even Garfunkeler-in-Chief Paul Simon reunited with the Garfunkeled one on “My Little Town.”

The most amazing thing about Breakaway is how well it has stood the test of time. If the very idea of Garfunkel’s hothouse flower of a voice causes you to wriggle about like sentient Jello, Breakaway is definitely your cup of treacle. It has a wistful and melancholic feel to it, and the melancholy doesn’t sound forced. Aside from the Paul-Simon penned “My Little Town,” on which the duo sing, “Nothing but the dead and the dying back in my little town,” Breakaway doesn’t have a single rocker on it. And calling “My Little Town” a rocker is definitely stretching it. This is because Garfunkel’s testosterone levels are in the negative, to the extent that he makes Barry Manilow look like Henry Rollins. “Waters of March” shows signs of animation, as does the title track, which is easy listening at its pleasant easiest. But Karen Carpenter could out-rock Art Garfunkel any day.

The other amazing thing about Breakaway is that, although I’ve looked under every rock, I can’t find a single song on it that makes me feel like a crocodile that has just tucked into a spoiled missionary. By all rights I should suffer intestinal distress upon listening to “I Only Have Eyes for You” and “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever).” But both songs include soaring crescendos that belie their rather pedestrian origins. Nothing saves a song like a bit of soaring.

But the album’s greatest song is, without a doubt, Garfunkel’s sublime take on Beach Boy Bruce Johnston’s lovely “Disney Girls.” To listen, friends, is to swoon. It’s the greatest Beach Boys song Brian Wilson never wrote, and Garfunkel’s bravura performance perfectly captures the song’s wistful nostalgia. “Reality,” he sings, “It’s not for me/And it makes me laugh/But fantasy world/And Disney girls/I’m coming back.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t hear this one enough. Beats both the Beach Boys and Captain and Tennille on the head with the proverbial surfboard, it does.

Art Garfunkel has always fought an uphill battle against his own limitations. He’s no songwriter, and the shortcoming of that wonderful tenor of his is that it only works on a very circumscribed type of song. In recent years, the most interesting thing he has done is get busted for possession of pot. Twice. But on Breakaway he transcended his shortcomings to produce an LP that actually holds up, and almost deserves its platinum status. I’ll never listen to anything on it besides “Disney Girls,” but there’s no denying that on Breakaway the choirboy brings home the proverbial bacon. If you don’t agree, feel free to Garfunkel me. Because the royalties on the word will only boomerang straight back to yours truly.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B

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  • Stevart

    B? That’s like Christgau giving Gaucho a B-. Really, let yourself go and forget the lite FM yada yada and call the album for what it is…*&%$# masterpiece. I.e., grade yourself on a curve or better yet come back in 50 years and give it a B+ then after another 50 an A- then an A+. Some learning curves are longer than others. Have a nice life, what’s left of it!

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