by Perry Meisel
So sweet and guileless is most of Art Garfunkel's solo album that it shows where the real religion came from in the blend of pretense and purity that he produced over the years with Paul Simon. And yet it would be a mistake to label the music's awesome serenity as a return to genuine psychedelic spiritualism. In fact, what is astonishing about the album is Garfunkel's ability to carve a path across a landscape of vision abandoned now that the rush of Movement energy has faded in disillusion. Perhaps one secret of his success is that the inspiration is entirely personal. Unlike Simon, Garfunkel views the trials of growing older as part of a natural sequence, not as a theft of one's exuberance by an unkind world that turns all revolutions into ashes.
Still, this sense of Garfunkel's hard-won serenity will probably seem an unacceptable means of dealing with American life in the Seventies. More to the taste is Simon's wistful return to a personal and cultural childhood, an innocence in no way religious, and even more jejune than the now-failed, self-made innocence of the late Sixties. The rarefied heights of Garfunkel's music will be both too deliberate and too frightening for those who would rather forget, or never knew, preferring to wash down Qualude with Bud, or marrying, donning a profession, and fathering a new generation of consumers.
Lamentable depths of bathos are the side effects of Garfunkel's efforts. Surely the srings are often pushed beyond the limits of taste, just as Art's singing is occasionally too earnest, too formal in its pose. But these are the dangers of his style, especially when a great deal of the production has been handled by Roy Halee (producer of Simon and Garfunkel, and of Simon alone), whose skilled head, for all its excellence, seems to falter in curious wonder at Garfunkel's unique direction.
There are no original tunes here, nor are there classics of any kind. Though Garfunkel has chosen songs as vehicles for a consistent tone, the surface moods vary considerably. The most characteristic feeling is the slow, deep funk of Paul Williams's "Traveling Boy" and Jim Webb's "All I Know" and "Another Lullaby" - all slush melodrama without the filter of Garfunkel's painfully beautiful interpretations. While the swelling strings tend to oversweeten Art's fragile tenor (doubletracked, by the way, in unison on many cuts) the sheer emotion of the singing usually manages to defraud Halee's excessive arrangements. Perhaps too somber is Randy Newman's "Old Man," though the wagging joy of Van Morrison's "I Shall Sing" more than balances the impulse towards the morbid.
The predominance of strings, like the ballads' folk posing, continually raises the difficult issue of classical instrumentation's relation to rock music. The easy drift toward Mantovani is as inescapable as it is impossible to resolve on the level of practice. Is it best simply to do without strings? Or can the tasteful models of the Beatles and Motown provide the synthetic direction necessary to avoid the semi-classical assaults that can only reduce rock to the bloodless level of fifties pop?
The horns, on the other hand (present on only two cuts), are innovative to the point of rivaling the Beatles' use of woodwinds. Description can do little justice to the perfection of texture and blend of parts and solos that mark these jeweled pockets of the album.
Why Garfunkel wanted to call his album Angel Clare is probably bound up in the history of literary pretension that marred his work with Simon. And yet there must be some logic for the choice of Hardy's wooden intellectual who learns too late the truth of the heart, a strange persona indeed for the sweet and gentle Arthur. Is it a sense of belated recognition that Garfunkel means to convey by the title? Well, then, Angel, your Tess has been returned to you, pardoned for her crime as well as her sin. The Fates have relented, granting Arthur a lengthy marriage with his Muse, complete with the hope of abundant issue in the future.
Originally published in Fusion, March, 1974