Monday 5 September 2016

Art Garfunkel "Watermark" (1977)

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Art Garfunkel "Watermark" (1977)

Crying In MY Sleep/Marionette/Shine It On Me/Watermark/Saturday Suit/All My Love's Laughter//(What A) Wonderful World/Mr Shuck 'n' Jive/Paper Chase/She Moved Through The Fair/Someone Else (1958)/Wooden Planes

There's a 'watermark' that runs through most of this album, but it's not the singer's mark or even the producer's (ex Traffic member and Dylan producer Barry Beckett) but the writer's, at times leaving Garfunkel sounding like a guest on his own solo album and no longer the visionary of his first two records. For the first time since Simon and Garfunkel broke up, Art is working with a single vision across an entire record (give or take a substituted hit single) and how you view the success of 'Watermark' depends much more on what you think of Jimmy Webb than it does what you think of Art Garfunkel. There are perhaps more similarities between Jimmy and Paul than you might suppose: both came to fame young but struggled to stay there, both started their careers as 'hit factory' songwriters and by 1977 both were somewhat overlooked, dismissed as yesterday's news. However both also share a similarly timeless feel in their music and topics, with simple yet epic songs about love and life and their songs largely have an inner 'toughness' that makes them stand out against Arty's often overly-pretty collection of cover songs. Sadly what they don't share is a similar sense of daring, originality or variety, with 'Watermark' ending up a slightly soggy album that travels in more or less the same direction all the way through, in contrast to the S and G albums which were never the same from track to track. Had Arty been lured into the spider's Webb at the start of his career he would surely have been a success anyway ('All I Know', his first hit solo single, is a fine Jimmy Webb composition) - unfortunately, after working with Paul Simon, even a writer as talented as Webb was going to come off second best. 'Watermark' ends up all too often being a case of putting too many musical eggs inside one basket and Arty - who usually has one of the most expressive voices in the business - uses the same mood on most of the record (the only two songs Jimmy didn't write - 'What A Wonderful World', which was substituted for another Webb song 'Fingerpaints' on the higher profile re-issue and folk standard 'She Moved Through The Fair' are notably the two that really stand out). The real difference is that you can imagine Jimmy Webb songs being covered by other people as equally well as Arty sings them here whereas every Simon and Garfunkel cover that doesn't feature Art on there somewhere seems wrong and faintly absurd.

Which is not to say that this is an awful album or anything like that. At least Arty's picks of Webb songs to sing are unusual, even if none were written directly for this album or his voice. Almost half of 'Watermark' can sit amongst Arty's best work, especially when there's a real sense of emotion and passion in the room breaking out of Watermark's slight sense of detachment. 'Crying In My Sleep' delivers exactly what Art needs in a song - the sense that he's trying hard not to reveal his emotions but that they're so strong he can't help himself. It's full of the moments that make up all of his best loved works: the final push on 'Bright Eyes' when shock turns into grief, the finale to 'For Emily Wherever I May Find Her' where awe turns into a feeling so strong it can't be contained any longer and especially the last verse of 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' when Art hints that he isn't just a stable rock in a changing world but overflowing with emotional currents and is easily the most fitting of the Jimmy Webb songs on the album. The title track too is an entertaining experiment in which Art sings passionate words across the most straightforward and almost cold delivery of his career, a real song full of hidden meanings. 'She Moved Through The Fair' is even better, slowing the old standard down from a jolly jaunt about chasing your first love into a scary nightmarish crawl through hidden passages where any wrong move can result in heartbreak, pregnancy or tragedy, the opposite of this song's usual teenage freedom trademarks. And then there's 'What A Wonderful World', released a month after the album and a surprise hit single, that offers what's naturally a rather gloomy and eye-wateringly melancholic album a warm note of love and hope at its core. Four great songs isn't actually that bad a ratio for Art Garfunkel solo albums, but it has to be said that most of the rest of 'Watermark' is so wishy-washy it escapes your notice. And when you have a singer as powerful as Arty delivering songs by a writer as good (if not great) as Jimmy Webb this set really should have delivered something a bit more.

In a way it sounds like a record made on holiday, but a difficult holiday - which in many ways it was. 'Watermark' took 13 months to make and Arty recorded in seven different locations, travelling out to anywhere he thought might have the right vibes (though most of it was made in the rather different locations of Ireland and Alabama). Even the cover art looks like a holiday shot - it was taken by Arty's girlfriend, the actress Laurie Bird, a couple of years before her suicide (a theme which dominates Art's next two albums) and together with the sad and mournful songs seems almost like a warning of some kind. The sea, after all, isn't that far away to Arty and rises up threatening and grey, even though Arty has his face to 'us' and seems oblivious to the wave about to crash over his head. That's a pretty good representation of the overall feeling for this album, actually with most of the songs here picking up on the theme that things are right on the cusp of growing out of control. 'Crying In My Sleep' 'Marionette' 'Shine It On Me' 'She Moved Through The Fair' 'Paper Chase' and 'Someone Else' are all about recent breakups in relationships that were meant to last forever, whether the narrator's, his partner's or in 'Marionette' the girl he clearly fancies rotten. In all of these songs the narrator has tried to be a grown-up, faced up to the loss in his life with icy calm and detachment and listened to his head when it tells him that the pairings were clearly never meant to be; however at the same time this record's narrator's can't ignore the fact that he's been wounded deeply to the core. This causes him to do many intense things across this record: to burst out in tears and confess all to a telephone operator ('Crying In My Sleep'), become tainted by 'fading varnish' after a lifetime of bright colours ('Marionette'), finally break the habit of a lifetime and confess all in a love poem after the timing for admitting he's in love has passed ('Shine It On Me'), 'Paper Chase' sees Arty running in a last ditch attempt to woo someone whose been hanging out with every boy available (and a few that aren't), 'She Moved Through The Fair' bids goodbye to virginity and freedom with an impressively creepy arrangement given that it's about the wedding night bliss of two true loves and 'Someone Else' is a row after hearing about a partner's infidelity, albeit a clearly well practised and sober one. You wouldn't necessarily know about all this emotional turmoil from just hearing the album (as opposed to reading the lyrics sheet) though: 'Watermark' is a slightly schizophrenic record that longs to let go in a burst of passion but finds itself trapped by the need to stay firmly within the middle of the road. How better a record it might have been if Arty had given into his passions and sang from his heart, rather than from the more inhibited side of his personality (though that said Webb's own recordings of some of these songs are much the same - Arty clearly picks up on his new friend's ability to second-guess and hint rather than come out and say things which is what makes him still one of Webb's more suitable interpreters - it's just a shame that the inner fire that Arty does so well gets extinguished on this album perhaps more than any other).

There's another theme that floats through this record and it's one of nostalgia - funnily enough old partner Paul Simon's most contemporary record 'Still Crazy After All These Years' shows signs of this too. On both records the idea is that anyone of a similar age has by now accrued an awful lot of baggage, but there's still the hope that meeting the right person out there will help them unpack. Though Arty doesn't meet any old lovers on the street last night, he reminisces often about school ('Don't know what a slide rule is for!'), playground games ('Paper Chase', a more erudite version of 'Kiss Chase'), teenage days dressing up to go out on the pull ('Saturday Suit', a very different and innocent song compared to the sheer torture of the older and wiser 'Crying In My Sleep'), boyhood friendships involving wooden toy planes, a previous life in the war ('Mr Shuck 'n' Jive') and distant memories and impressions of past loves that exists even when they look so different now they're older ('Watermark' itself). Together with the 'other' theme of a relationship hitting a rock in the road (or a tidal wave in a previously still ocean), 'Watermark' is an album that spends a lot of time looking backwards. The future is a scary place full of unknowns while the past can be viewed through rose-tinted glasses because we know what the outcomes were (even when they were sad ones, at least they seemed certain).

In context, I think know where this album is coming from for Arty (remember he still picked the songs, even if Webb wrote most of them), although as usual the private Garfunkel never mentioned anything such in interviews. He'd been a bachelor for most of his life, staying single throughout the Simon and Garfunkel years when he could have had anybody he chose. When he finally took the plunge with Linda Marie Grossman in 1972 both sides agreed early on that it was a bad idea and they were divorced by 1975, making 'Watermark' the first album since their split. Almost as soon as that relationship was over, though, came Laurie Bird who was arguably the love (or at least one of them) of Arty's life but she was fragile and sensitive, the exact opposite of the fiery relationship Garfunkel had with Linda Marie. She was desperate to marry, to have some concrete proof that Arty loved her and only her - after being burned so recently Arty couldn't bring himself to do it and thought the couple had plenty of time together. Sadly he was wrong. 'Watermark' always used to strike me as an oddly unromantic album for someone who'd just found his soulmate a couple of years before (a different matter when you sing other people's songs perhaps, but you'd expect some love songs in here somewhere) and who was open enough about his relationship to feature her name on the back of the album. Actually, playing it again in so many times in quick succession it strikes me more that it's an incredibly passionate and romantic album but that neither side feels up to admitting it for a whole variety of reasons and so the people who exist in these song-worlds hide it as best they can. Someone else stolen your girl? Write them a calm note saying what a shame that is while begging them to read between the lines and come back. Relationship ruined? Sob your heart out - not to the girl in question but to a phone operator of all people and then backtrack like mad that it was only a bad dream, honest ('That's all hat's wrong with me!') Obsessed with images of past loves running through your head? Leave them like that and keep them as a happy memory rather than acting on them. Like water, the love in this album which could have been so strong simply passes through the characters' hands, even though at one stage it felt as strong and powerful as that rising wave on the album cover.

It's worth pausing at this point to note how fitting it is that it's the schizophrenic 'Watermark' that comes in two shades, with altered track listings considering whether you own the first 'doomed' pressing of October 1977 or the 'improved' chart entry of January 1978 (which is the one copied for all subsequent re-issues). The difference is the substitution of the Webb track 'Fingerpaints' for the Paul Simon reunion hit 'What A Wonderful World', a song whose warm glow doesn't really suit this album of muted melancholy but is a highlight all the same. CBS out this version out in a panic when the first edition missed the charts; though the second edition still sold less than 'Angel Clare' or 'Breakaway' it still sold better thanks to the inclusion of the later single (and 'Watermark' ended up selling roughly as many copies when both sets of sales are added together). For those who own the 'first' copy of the album 'Fingerpaints' sounds like every other Jimmy Webb song on this album so you're not missing much, full of descriptions of childhood painting games and innocence. In this song the boy who fancies a girl draws a picture of her to take home and cherish in big daubs of paint and no one thinks anything of it - although keeping it into adulthood and weeping over what might have been seems a trifle less 'normal'. The contrasting happy memories of 'Wonderful World' are much better, if less fitting.

Overall, then, 'Watermark' is a little bit wishy-washy and heavy going for those who, like me, consider Jimmy Webb a lesser talent than some of the other songwriters Art's covered down the years. There are too many tracks here that don't resonate at all (I still can't tell you how 'Mr Shuck 'n' Jive goes...) and even the ones that do are cut out of such similar cloth that it feels like there's no growth or danger on this album the way there is with the other three albums made in the 1970s. Many reviewers considered 'watermark' too 'safe' which isn't strictly true - it's a brave move to record almost a whole album of songs by the same composer and for most of them to deal with unrequited or extinguished love rather than cute love ballads. However the strong moments on 'Watermark' - almost always the lyrics, especially the trademark 'twist' of emotion running high - redeem much of the record if you're paying close attention and though I would have liked to hear Arty soar the way we know he can offer us the hint of a hidden smile of ecstasy and a tear of hurt better than almost any other singer of his generation. Like a watermark that's always there and isn't really gone, there's a part of this album that stays with you long after the record has stopped playing (especially the nostalgic thrill of 'Wonderful World' and the spooky vibrations of 'She Moved Through The Fair', the two songs here Webb didn't write). I just wish there was more of it and that the power that's clearly here on 'Watermark' had been more of a raging storm than a paddling pool.

The album starts with 'Crying In My Sleep', by far the most emotional of Jimmy Webb's songs. Arty's been trying to cope with life on his own and, you know, he's coping honest: he's been walking round the yard, going out for coffee and watching TV. But every so often he sees something that reminds him of his beloved and his whole world comes tumbling down: the 'leading lady' on TV looks just that bit like she did, Art tries to read a book she wrote which he just happens to have kept (not for any special reason, it's just a good book) and suddenly he's  not coping so well. He's even taken up smoking to forget her, desperate to be addicted to something else for a change. Things get worse when he wakes up from a nightmare and reaches out for her arms, temporarily forgetting that she's not there anymore, which makes the nightmare worse. In his panic Art knocks his phone over and finds himself comforting the operator, panicked by his cries of pain, suddenly switching from intense emotional pain into cool dude, I'm fine persona. By now we and he both know that he's lying to himself, that a bad dream isn't 'all that's wrong with me' - his whole world's fallen apart but he's still crying to carry on as usual. How typical of Webb's detached style, then, that his most emotional set of lyrics come from a sense of detachment and pretending things are ok. The fact that there is emotion in there somewhere, though, makes this a far more suitable song for Garfunkel than all of the others here and he's at his expressive best here with one of his all-time greatest vocals, going from surly to sweet in the blink of an eye. A gorgeous song with more originality and heart than most of Webb's catalogue, this is one of the clear highlights of the album, made all the more poignant by Arty's girlfriend Laurie Bird playing the part of the telephone operator two years before the singer loses her for real, when he'll do a similar act of denial over how badly it affected him.

'Marionette' is an odd little song, a heartbreakingly sad song performed as a bright and happy Spanish flamenco that's set in Brandenburg, Germany. No, me neither. This time the narrator laments not for himself but for a girl whose been used like a puppet, left outside in the rain like some cake (did we mention Jimmy Webb's most famous song was 'MacArthur Park'?), her painted smile cracking and her bright colours finding as she's 'left on the shelf'. It's clearly a song of domestic abuse and neglect but one that's been put into softer, gentler metaphors for public consumption. The metaphor is a good one though: the girl is clearly being used as a puppet, made to her partner's bidding at all times and her cracked smile is a worthy image for the real feelings she's trying to cover up. The hint as well, at least to my ears, is that the narrator is the person who originally 'painted' the marionette (ie her first love) and he's horrified that she chose someone abusive over him when he'd have treated her like a Queen (some fans have wondered if he is in fact the abuser himself, with some typical Webb detachment going on, but in that case someone else had been along and left his marionette out in the rain, which would be a bit odd). What's odd is that this song simultaneously sounds like a carnival, full of joy and laughter and dancing. Are we meant to take this song as being from the man's point of view? Are we supposed to be in on the joke and pretending that everything's fine? If so, then that's perhaps a stretch too far - there's nothing in this song that wouldn't be all the more powerful for being slower and more heartfelt, but then Webb isn't really that sort of heartfelt passionate writer. Also, what's with the closing lines 'paint yourself blue and make yourself as young as I once was myself' - is the narrator urging the marionette to make herself prettier to get noticed rather than doing the sensible thing and helping her out of her difficult situation? The end result is a mixed blessing; Arty again sings the song as if he's totally mis-read the lyrics and that nothing's wrong and it's so convincing you almost believe it too. A few extra hints at what's going on beneath the strings and the paint might have helped make the point clearer though, at least to thick listeners like me who took a few playings of this song to work out what it was all about.

'Shine It On Me' features the prettiest melody out of all the Webb songs, a sleepy lush piano ballad on which Arty soars like a bird (or Kee-haw The Seagull maybe?) However considering that this is a rare example of a directly-engaging song of emotion from Webb, it's a curiously unmoving experience. Even after a painful breakup Webb admits 'you were the best person I ever knew' and tries to leave the love of his life with a message to send her on her way, only to realise that time is growing too short to say everything he wants to say. There's a great couplet too where the narrator realises that the girl he's in love with is a vision of his own making rather than whose really there and that 'looking in the mirror...I got confused and thought your eyes were mine'. Fine so far, but Webb never gets on to pass on what's in his mind, instead taking a detour and asking his lover to 'protect your sanity - and then shine it on me', which is more something you get told by your psychiatrist than your significant other. Was their relationship together really this weird? Isn't the whole point of a break-up song the fact that one or other or both of you don't want to shine your 'sanity' on each other anymore? David Crosby and Leah Kunkel (wife of session drummer Russell) guest and both are always a credit to any album but both are mixed far too low while Arty's vocal is poor by his high standards on automatic pilot rather than digging out the pure hard emotion the track demands. Garfunkel less emotional than Webb? This really isn't a good idea, which is a shame given the promising opening which may well be the loveliest thirty seconds on the record.

'Watermark' is one of the more interesting Webb songs, re-arranged by Garfunkel and Beckett from a more straightforward love song into one of those slightly ominous Medival fairy tales he loves so much (think 'Scarborough Fair' crossed with this album's 'She Moved Through The Fair'). This sense of hidden doors and half-forgotten memories buried deep inside suits a lyric that's about a love from a long time ago that may or may not have been as powerful as the narrator is remembering (did he build it up in his memory-banks to be more than it was?) It's so long ago he doesn't really remember her anymore - not her body or her face, just her presence and essence, a 'watermark' passing across his memory. Always one for a metaphor, Webb compares her to 'a song half heard through a closed door' and 'an old book when you can't read the writing anymore' and yet your memory still recalls everything you need to know. It might be worth pointing out about now Jimmy Webb's, erm, complicated love life. Patricia Sullivan was a 12-year-old actress and model when she first met Jimmy after both were asked to pose for the cover of Teen magazine when Webb was a 21-year-old heart-throb pin-up. The two instantly connected and married seven years later - though not till after they'd had a baby together (conceived when Patsy was seventeen). For long periods the pair tried to keep apart to try to save the scandal impacting both their careers - this might explain the tug of war between expression and detachment that goes on in most Webb songs. But especially this one: it's not that the girl in 'Watermark' dates from so long ago, but that the narrator has been trying to forget her for some reason, trying to tell himself that he shouldn't be remembering her face when she's so young - and yet she means so much to him he can't forget her 'watermark' however hard he tries. Note the line 'Her innocent visage as my child lover', an image pressed forever on the narrator's eyelids whenever he closes his eyes and is alone, a line which on the original is spat out with some venom and bitterness (though Arty sings it straight here). Suddenly by the end of the song she's no longer so young but decaying before his eyes, caught in her prime only on an 'ancient canvas' as he waits even longer for her to be his. There's a sense of guilt and threat and of an innocent virgin being led to her doom on 'Watermark' which makes it feel more like a track from the more haunted 'Angel Clare' (named, don't forget, for a character in Thomas Hardy's work about doomed heroine Tess O'The Durbuvilles'). But at the same time, it's spoken from the view of a man who only wants to love and respect the girl he fears he'll never be allowed to have - there's no attempt to lead her astray on the Road to Mandalay here; she feels it too. With so many societal 'rules' in place, though, remembering her 'Watermark' is as close as he's going to get. Listen out for the end of the song, when the song stops being dreamlike and hazy (a production effect made using echo by the sound of it, in true S and G fashion) and becomes 'real' for a few agonising notes, waddling back from thought into the harsh light of real life. One of Webb's most impressive compositions, the track is helped a great deal by Arty's soft and non-judgemental touch as the singer also feels like he doesn't quite belong to 'this' world. By contrast Webb's 'other' famous interpreter Richard Harris recorded a truly horrible version of this song, which is over-dramatic and over-egged. Frustratingly, it was a much bigger hit even though it's not what the song's about at all! (Says me anyway!)

'Saturday Suit' is a more 'traditional' Webb song, i.e. one where not a lot happens. The narrator and his partner have had a busy week and want to escape, dreaming of getting dressed up and walking into a cafe for a few blissful hours. Compared to the strict deadlines of the rest of the week the couple can take their time ('This day has no number, this day has no name'), the twist at the end of the song being that the pair enjoyed it so much they're doing it again even though it's Monday morning! There's not much of a song to get a hold on here really, with only producer Beckett's Fender Rhodes piano catching the ear - even Arty sounds as if he's sleepwalking just that little bit too much through this sleepy song. It would have been better still if he'd featured his usual band of guest stars on this track too instead of simply using (what sounds like anyway) a choir of Garfunkels all singing more or less the same part. Oh well, like the Saturday itself it's over relatively quickly and painlessly before the meatier days of the week arrive again...

Side one ends with power-pop ballad 'All My Love's Laughter'. It's a warning song from the narrator to whatever lover comes next after he does - yes she's beautiful and acts meek and mild but she's really a devil child. However Webb can never bring himself to be emotional enough to tell us why except by confusing metaphors: she stands 'in the shade', she basks in the light and 'you'll never know till it's night' and she'll cover up how lost she really feels with trinkets, satins and laces. Everyone else thinks she's sweet when they meet her, so why does the narrator have such a problem with her? The last verse is the closest we have to a clue, that she's 'winning - and yet you never will!' But what exactly has she won? She hasn't done anything that upsetting and her character isn't that different  to the one she was pretending to have, making this a song more about the narrator's insecurities about not letting her be himself but image of what she's like more than anything else. It doesn't help that the music on this track is so forgettable, conveying neither the sweetness and light 'act' the girl is putting on or the toughness of what lies underneath, simply drifting its way from first note to last. Arty is always at his best when he's got an emotion to convey, but on this track he sounds confused so sings in 'neutral' despite this song's scope for hurt or regret or anger. Not one of the album's better songs or performances.

What a wonderful moment it is though when 'What A Wonderful World' bursts through the speakers. A slower and cuter version than Sam Cooke's 1950s original, it's a fitting choice for Arty to choose to work with two old friends, Paul Simon and James Taylor. Unlike 'My Little Town' which was designed as a meeting on equal terms, this is very much Arty's show and he gets to orchestrate his pals the way he's always wanted to: James get the bottom, Garfunkel gets the middle and at last the public get to hear Paul's gorgeous falsetto, something he used to use on demos for where Arty's voice would go ('Bridge' is the only released one so far, on the Paul Simon 1964-1993 box set) but never till now on record. Arty thought this was his partner's greatest gift and nagged him lots of times to use it; now, as the de facto producer (well technically it was Phil Ramone for this one track, but Arty was in charge) Arty gets his wish and proves to have been right all along. He also puts the chorus first, which gives the song a much happier, hopeful vibe than most cover versions that start with the long list of 'don't know much abouts'.  This lovely song's cosy nostalgia is perfect for the reunion of old friends and it's great to hear three musicians who were pin-ups for the college/educated circuit joking that they can't remember any of their education, but they sho' know a lot about love. Surely no one would have been able to resist the narrator's pleas that they messed up their education because they were in 'love' and 'what a wonderful world this would be' if they could just maybe love them back? There are at least thirty 'wonderful's in this track (I lost count somewhere near the end), but unlike most of this album that repetition is, umm, quite wonderful - this is a gloriously sunny, funny, warm and heartfelt track that works as both three old friends messing around on an old standard and as an impressive cover in its own right. A #17 US hit, it did better than Paul, Arty or for that matter James' solo singles had done since 1975 ('My Little Town' being the last big hit for Simon and Garfunkel), though strangely only in America - this wasn't even a single in most of Europe, which might be why it always seems to get missed out of compilations.

'Mr Shuck 'n' Jive' finds us back in the solemn Jimmy Webb universe again. A song not about love but about an old war hero facing his hardest battle as he struggles to fight illness and old age. In the 1970s World War Veterans were a dying breed (much like WW2 Vets are today), it starts off as a moody prophet of doom and steps away for a bizarre scat-singing middle that ruins the whole effect (some people say this features David Crosby again, but frankly it's not that good though he may be on the rest of the song - it's most likely Miles Davis' pianist and vocal arranger Bob Dorough). We're clearly meant to think of his past and happiness and the contrast between the dancing genius of his teens and the still figure waiting to die, but the movement between the two parts makes this incredibly clunky and if you're not paying attention it either seems like the old man has got up from his death-bed to dance a quick shuffle or that the narrator is wringing his hands over the fact that he's nearly pegged it. Actually it's a deep and heartfelt song that's built around sincere affection and the narrator's pain over his hero's quiet death when everyone should be singing his praises feels heartfelt. Oddly Arty's delivery doesn't, even though this sort of awe and hope mingled with dread is what he does so well (this is 'Bright Eyes' but with a human instead of a rabbit). With a bit more work 'Mr Shuck 'n' Jive' could have danced all night, but as it's left on the record it sounds more like someone tripping over and isn't the graceful bow out the war veteran sounds like he deserved. The one part of the song that works well is the brief saxophone break, which was the last recording ever made featuring the Dave Brubeck Quartet's Paul Desmond, who passed away five months before the album's (first) release and knew he was dying from lung cancer at just 52 when he recorded it (his big quote: 'People are worried about my lungs - they should see what I've done to my liver!') Other people who know more about jazz than me say it's one of his finest moments - it certainly has exactly the haunting, fragile quality the rest of the song demands, when it's not trying to break-dance that is.

'Paper Chase' sounds like it should have been the single from the album: up tempo, noisy and catchy, though without any of the depth or grace of Garfunkel at his best. Arty doesn't even sound much like himself on this track, singing deeply on the verses (and a lot more like Webb than on the other tracks) before finally reverting back to normal on the lengthy middle eight. The guitars are good though, with a real drive and punch that you'd expect from the Muscle Shoals section (Arty must have got their address from Paul when they met up!) At one two and a half minutes this song doesn't give you much pause for breath to think about the holes in the plot but here they are anyway for your convenience: Jimmy seems to have got two playground games muddled up here (well, it was a long time ago). The paper chase of the title is a game where one person is the 'hare' hunted by 'hounds' and though he has a head start and can run anywhere he likes, he has to leave a trail of paper wherever he turns a corner. In other words, a) you have to great faith in who you choose as your hare so that he won't just mess you around and dump a whole bucket of paper on the floor round the first bend and claim it was an 'accident' and b) it's basically a very complicated way of littering while doing a lot of running, which isn't a multi-skill set many people will ever need in their lives again. However given that it's girls who keep running away from the narrator it seems more likely that Jimmy is talking about 'Kiss Chase', where boys get to chase girls or girls get to chase boys until everyone is caught. Or so I'm told. I always seemed to miss that game sadly somehow, I can't think why. Anyway, perhaps it's both games because the hint is that we've moved on a few years here. The narrator's girl is always one step ahead of him but leaving just enough 'evidence' of what she's been up to arouse his suspicion, while the hints are that the 'paper trail' she leaves is a divorce settlement, not that she's told him to his face yet. The unspoken theme of this song though: how did love get so nasty and adult when it used to be such a game and such fun? Is it really the same feeling the narrator used to have for his playground crushes all those years ago? However because the song is so upbeat and vibrant and speedy you don't really have time to think about these things - this song sounds more about the adrenalin rush of the chase rather than the worry about what happens when you've caught your prey and what happens in life next.

You could argue that the opposite trick is used on the standard 'She Moved Through The Fair', which is normally such a sweet and uplifting song but sounds so dark and ominous here. Some gorgeous Irish instruments played by The Chieftans (flutes, tin whistles and Uillean pipes) sets the tone for this Celtic song, but unusually Arty's arrival turns this sweet song into sour. The tempo, usually so quick and lively, is funeral-slow and makes us think about every word and read new hidden thoughts into them all. The young girl, whose so pleased about her wedding day soon and the fact her boy gets on so well with her parents, dashes away from him not in some multi-coloured excitement but with a sort of film noir doom. In this version of the song everything that used to sound so safe and cozy now sounds scary, so that if this was a soap opera you would just know that something awful was about to happen to either him or her right at the point when the song slows down and starts hopping uncomfortably from minor chord to minor chord. Every note on this track pulls, while Arty's gorgeous vocal drips with cunning and intrigue, dressed in a ghostly pale echo that makes him sound like one or other's ghost come back to haunt the scene of his happiest days. Arty's always been good with folk songs - he has just that sort of rich and pure voice you need for songs like this - but turning something that should fit him so well and then using the opposite technique is a stroke of genius. The production, strong for so much of the album, is at its strongest here too with several subtle touches that embellish the song so well: listen out for what sounds like a croaking frog at around 1:30. Or the ghostly second of children's laughter that disappears a split second before you've quite worked out what it is at 1:48. Or the ghostly harmonies at 2:15. Or a harp trying to merrily play before being squashed by what sounds like a hammer horror synthesiser's lowest note three seconds later. Nothing in this world is doing what we've come to expect and it makes us look at a song we've heard endlessly in a totally new light. That, dear readers, is how you do a cover song!

Any song was going to be anti-climactic after that and 'Someone Else', a dirge of a Webb ballad, doesn't even try to compete. Worryingly slow and maudlin, a drunken sounding Art gets morose as he realises that the girl of his dreams is with someone else. Over four short verses and two short minutes we hear that the narrator has 'known it all the time' but can't be cross with his successor because he did the same thing to the bloke before and the same will happen to him in the end. By the end of this realisation, he's a lot happier - he's worried about this day for so long and it's finally here and after singing that the girl has found 'someone else' for three verses, he switches things around in the last one by claiming he too can find 'someone else'. Arty sounds uncomfortable here - vengeance doesn't suit a voice that pure and golden - and the echo that was so right for the last track now sounds so wrong for this one. Even 'Watermark's generally excellent arrangements for horns don't work that well here, with a deep rumbling part that doesn't really add much. It was meant for someone else this record, because it doesn't suit Arty or the album's themes and feel very well this song. The subtitle '(1958)' intrigues me though: that would make Jimmy Webb 12 at the time of writing, which seems an early age for being replaced by someone else. Maybe that second game of kiss chase didn't go the way he wanted...

Finally, 'Wooden Planes' gives way to the emotion that's been building up for most of the album, but in a surreal angular outburst of colour rather than the direct way most other songwriters would use. It's another tale of nostalgia and memory, without a twist in the tale this time as the narrator simply remembers laughing with his brother as they both ran behind a wooden plane pretending they were in the sky. There's no sign of what happened afterwards - maybe they both become pilots? - but after pulling away in the last verse we hear that the narrator is on his deathbed, like Mr Shuck 'n' Jive', remembering that moment of freedom decades before as the best time of his life. Forget all the adult stuff that came later - this was what living was all about and he never found it again. 'If the story of my life ever makes you sad...' the narrator ends, then think of him this way, happy and free. Given how controlled the rest of the album has been, it's a shame that Arty didn't join in with the backing and go all-out in his grand finale. Instead he's the glue keeping 'Wooden Planes' from flying away, full of poise and dignity as the world (his body?) goes mad around him and he finds himself drifting as free as his old model. As lovely as this song is, though, there's something about it that keeps it from being the tearjerker it's being set up to be and the ending is particularly disappointing as Arty and 'Watermark' disappears not in a cloud of rocket fuel or white light but an ahh-ing choir who sound like they've wandered in from the local Monastry (they could at least have been in the same key as the song!)

That rather sums up 'Watermark', an album that had the potential to be great and even gets there for a few moments with a good four of the best Art Garfunkel songs of the 1970s all on one record, but a few too many curious ideas or misplaced lyrics or average performances get in the way. Arty won't work with one composer exclusively again until again teaming up with Jimmy for 'The Animals' Christmas' in 1986 (which makes this record seem like a masterpiece!) and that's probably a good thing - though these songs are all very different, they do feel the same, with a similar 'Watermark' watermark that runs through them all and Jimmy's similar way of expressing himself means Art largely expresses himself the same way. Garfunkel is such an expressive singer it seems a shame to hear him limiting his range to the voice he uses for most of the Webb recordings here and his attempt to boost a friend's career by recording nearly a whole album of his songs slightly backfired on him, at least until the second version of the album hit the shops. There is enough going on in 'Watermark' to suggest that a few occasional Webb-Garfunkel match-ups would have been a nice bonus for an album though, even if none of the ones here quite match Webb's biggest masterpiece 'All I Know'. However it's the power of 'She Moved Through The Fair' and 'Wonderful World' that suggest the direction this album might have been better going in: creepy hallucinogenic fairy tales or warm-blooded takes on love and nostalgia. If the next albums are about 'Fate For Breakfast' and 'Doubt For Desert' ('Scissors Cut' 1981), then this one is more of a languid lunch.  

Other Garfunkling articles from this site you might be interested in:

'Sounds Of Silence'

'Bridge Over Troubled Water' (1970)'

Angel Clare' (1973)

‘Breakaway’ (1975)

'Fate For Breakfast' (1979)

'The Animals' Christmas' (1986)

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