Graded on a Curve:
Seals & Crofts,
Summer Breeze

Let’s see if I can think of a nice thing to say about Seals & Crofts. How about, “At least there were only two of them?” Or, “Judging by the cover of Get Closer, Crofts looks like he’s pretty good at catching flies with his mouth?” Or, “According to Wikipedia the soft rock duo were instrumental in converting England Dan and John Ford Coley to the Bahá’í Faith, making it the Yacht Rock religion of choice?”

Or how about this: “With their summer songs blowing through the jasmine in your mind Seals and Crofts were the epitome of early seventies’ mellow, and most likely the inspiration for the Blue Jeans Committee?”

Sure, 1972 commercial breakthrough Summer Breeze–the duo’s fourth LP–is a morass of soppy lyrics and mushy melodies, but if you’re a fan of all things easy listening it’s unbeatable. Soft rock doesn’t get any softer, and if an earth shoe could sing it would sound just like them. So put on your yacht captain’s cap and prepare to set sail on the gentlest seas from here to Catalina!

Like a lot of your more flaccid Soft Coast avatars Jim Seals and Dash Crofts were born in the Heartland, Texas to be precise. But you wouldn’t know it by listening to them; their patchouli-scented sound carries nary the faintest whiff of Angus beef sizzling on the barbecue. Theirs is a folk rock with barely a whit of folk or rock in it, and who can blame them? The word was out that the kids were in dire need of some serious ear-coddling, and wanted to go to California in their minds.

Seals & Crofts succeeded by being softer than anybody–softer than the Eagles, Carole King, America, John Denver, Loggins & Messina, Bread, and James Taylor put together. They parked themselves at the intersection of Gentle and Nullity and they made hay. And they had something more going for them as well, namely an added dash of alternative spirituality. Seals and Crofts introduced an element of foggy Bahá’í mysticism to the mix, and by so doing out-Cat Stevened Cat Stevens himself.

Imagine this: 1974’s California Jam. Where the headliners included Black Sabbath, ELP, Deep Purple, Black Oak Arkansas–and Seals & Crofts! How did they find themselves on such a bill? And more importantly, how did they manage to escape being torn to pieces by that stoned audience of hard rock surlies? I’ll tell you. By lulling them into a rockabye trance of mesmerizing mellow, that’s how! It was Instant Satori on a mass scale and a gig that–thanks to ABC Television–helped to imprint the West Coast’s answer to Simon and Garfunkel on the national consciousness.

But mock as I may, Summer Breeze has its moments. “Say” is the best song CSN&Y never wrote; the title track is THE campy summer anthem of its or any time. I mean, I don’t think I have any jasmine growing in my mind (I certainly hope I don’t), but who can resist that lulling melody and those lush harmonies? I laugh when it comes on the radio but never fail to sing along because forget jasmine; “Summer Breeze” is musical kudzu and nothing can stop IT from growing wild in your cranium.

And while such songs as “East of Ginger Trees” and “The Euphrates” reek like a hipster’s cigarette lyrically (“What harm can befall thee in yon wilderness of cloves”) they’re both nice mood pieces; the former has a hushed, prog-rock-lite feel, while the latter meets the frozen noses in CSN&Y on their own turf and comes out the victor. And while the folk trappings (fiddle, banjo, etc.) of “Fiddle in the Sky” may not be enough to hide the duo’s complete lack of ideas, they’re enough to make for a low-rent down-home listening experience.

“Advance Guards” is a meditation on aging and pretty enough if you don’t listen to the words; trying to make sense of lines like “My father’s hair has turned to grey now; I never stopped to ask him why” is an exercise in futility. And the same goes for the ersatz funky “Yellow Dirt,” on which the boys attack a spiritually empty geezer with lines like, “He’s a sandwich of a fellow, an all-spread personality/So infected with disease of yellow dirt down in his soul.” But hey, I hear some bona fide electric guitar wank in there, and I’m not complaining.

As for “Funny Little Man” it’s a horrorshow of dumb lyrics set to a hushed Renaissance Faire melody and spiritually condescending to boot. “The Boy Down the Road” is a drag and may well be the worst “folk song” I’ve ever heard. As for “Hummingbird,” it’s a fey and delicate thing, and I wish it would stop fluttering around in my head. But it won’t because kvetch as much as I want it’s catchy; once it kicks in, it sticks to you like a good George Harrison song.

It’s a horrible thing to find yourself in thrall to a band you want to hate. Every tiny bone in my ears tells me to damn Summer Breeze as escapist trash, but there’s no denying its minor pleasures. Summer Breeze is a time capsule to a lost age, calling me back to those California nights I spent in small town Pennsylvania, dreaming of gentle waves lapping distant Pacific shores. Every tender soul I knew owned a copy of this album, and I knew a couple of Deep Purple fans who owned it too.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B-

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