Monday, 7 November 2016
Art Garfunkel "Lefty" (1988)
This Is The Moment/I Have A Love/So Much In Love/Slow Breakup/Love Is The Only Chain//When A Man Loves A Woman/I Wonder Why/King Of Tonga/If Love Takes You Away/The Promise
"Nobody knows what's the right thing to do - at least until it happens to you!"
Coming out of left-field and throwing something of a curve-ball to his fans, 'Lefty' broke a seven year fast (one bonkers Christmas album aside) and there won't be another fully-new Art Garfunkel record for another fourteen years. To put that in context that's more than the whole lifetime of Arty pictured on the front cover as an eleven year old (and shot by his brother Jules on a new camera as he prepared to hit back a baseball, proof that he's 'left-handed'). The cover shows Arty on the cusp of a big change - no he didn't become the baseball ace he dreamed of becoming, but he is on the cusp of meeting the singing partner who is about to change his life (Paul Simon if you hadn't already guessed). Equally, in 1988, Arty is in transition between still mourning girlfriend Laurie Bird (who died by her own hand in 1979) and moving on to be with the next love of his life, Kim Cermack, whom he married just six months after this album's release. Like the kid on the front cover, the adult Garfunkel is waiting to re-act to every ball that life can possibly throw at him and is caught in mid-swing, turning to stare at us straight on even though he's clearly only just turned round from looking at his 'past' behind him. Caught between what might still be and what might have been, 'Lefty' is an album full of big changes and it's big enough to take them, despite being - like every solo Garfunkel album bar one - a collection of covers and one long dismissed as the 'runt' of the Garfunkel litter.
The reason 'Lefty' rather fell through the cracks is more practical than musical. Still numb from the loss of Laurie, Arty was more interested in going on lengthy solo walking tours (this is the period when he begins to walk across the whole of America in small stages, a project that will last a decade) than he was promoting or touring this LP. Even in the wake of the mega-sales for 'Graceland', after even years of staying out of the limelight Arty seemed about as out of his time as the pre-teen on the front cover, while the few reviewers interested enough in the album to mention it simply talked about how far Arty had fallen compared to his partner's African exploits. And yet 'Lefty' has more in common with 'Graceland' than you might suppose: both albums were written in the wake of loss and adjustment to a new phase in their author's life and both works have them dabbling in genres and ideas alien to them. Having fun switching styles and genres and giving his music a typically 1980s rather than 1970s gloss, 'Lefty' is often Garfunkel at his most playful as we get things we don't expect, including genres (this is the first time Arty attempts the great songbook of American musicals and soul), instrumentation (there's a panpipe solo on 'When A Man Loves A Woman', only it's played with all the fire and crackle of an electric guitar howling with feedback) and ideas ('The King Of Tonga' is the world's purist singer going avant garde). Freed of the need to be the 'old' Garfunkel, Art embraces every opportunity to re-define what people think they know about him - at the same time as he's discovering new things about himself.
It had been a long, hard road to reach this point - in Arty's 46th year - where he finally felt happy. Arty's first marriage hadn't worked and his second relationship had ended in tragedy (Garfunkel's moving sleeve-note, where he recalls the matching t-shirts he and Laurie wore his delight at waking up nuzzled next to her each morning and his inability to throw her clothes out nine years on reveals just how deeply he was still affected by her loss). Though the bitterness and guilt heard on Arty's most unusual album 'Scissors Cut' has simmered down once more, 'Lefty' is the second of three albums still haunted by Laurie's ghost. Throughout the album, which was chosen with Arty's usual care to reflect his feelings, the narrator's are unable to let love go no matter how much it hurts them - love is 'a chain' that binds people together even after death or separation; a 'slow breakup' occurs in slow motion because there are still so many reasons to stay together even when there are more reasons to split and 'When A Man Loves A Woman' is a song about how love is eternal, even when a couple isn't together anymore. Arty hasn't forgotten his old love and all but admits that he never will.
Yet, unlike the blackness and the depths of despair pictured on the dark sleeve and even darker contents of 'Scissors Cut', 'Lefty' is a white album in more ways than just the front cover and there's a lightness of touch to much of the contents that comes from the breezy goodwill of being in love (with this album reflecting 'Fate For Breakfast' more than 'Scissors' for the most part, when Arty first admitted he was falling for Laurie). Arty admitted later that he was still unsure of his feelings in this period so soon after Laurie's death, but the music makes his feelings obvious as he sings 'So In Love' with all the gleeful air of a teenager, sighs that 'This Is The Moment' and ends the record with 'The Promise' - one from songwriter Nick Holmes about doing things differently this time so that his new lover 'will be honest and give you nothing to fear' this next time round that could well have been written by Art himself.
Proof that this is an album from a transitional period comes from the other songs on the album which are torn between the grimness of the bitter past and the promise of a better future, a sound which is the 'message' at the heart of this album. Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim's 'I Have A Love' was a song choice that confused many (it's about the only song from 'West Wide Story' that isn't picked for left-field mainstream albums like 'Lefty', being mostly plot and character development), but in context it makes perfect sense: Arty knows firsthand just how dangerous love can be, why everyone around him is telling him to stay away from it in case he gets burned and he's desperate not to make the same 'mistakes', with the same sense of impending doom and inevitability as Maria and Tony in the musical. However the pull of love is so strong that 'right or wrong' it's strong enough to overcome any doubts. Similarly, Peter Skellern's 'I Wonder Why' has Arty shocked and stunned at the realisation that he's in love after being alone for so long and having come to the sad and erroneous conclusion that he probably never would be again. That, really, is the mood of 'Lefty' in a nutshell - someone in love, against their will, not quite sure if they can believe it, which runs in contrast to the purist romance of 'Breakfast', the holiday romance of 'Breakaway' and the doomed lovers fate of 'Angel Clare' and 'Scissors Cut'. Though dismissed as just more pop covers, 'Lefty' is probably the most 'real' of all of Arty's albums up to this point, the one that best resembles his frame of mind and uses music as 'therapy' in the old Paul Simon songwriting sense (at least until Arty gets the songwriting bug himself on next album 'Everything Waits To Be Noticed', which shares the same loved-up but what-might-have-been air as 'Lefty' but paints using a bigger and more emotional canvas).
That just leaves 'The King Of Tonga', which is so far out of step with Arty's usual songs that many fans profess not to like it. I sympathise in theory - the last time Art messed with the formula on Carlos Jobim's 'Waters Of March' on 'Breakaway' the results weren't pretty. But in practice it's as big a breakthrough as 'Graceland' was for Paul and similarly inventive and open to new ideas. Perhaps not coincidentally the track even sounds African (albeit a more 1980s pop version of Africa than anything Arty's old partner was recording) even though it's about the 'collective name' for a bunch of islands South of Australia (I must admit to a soft spot for the place though: in pure terms of hit rate per head of population, Alan's Album Archives is probably more popular there than anywhere else, although in practical terms we've probably still only got one reader out there - a big shout out if it's you!) Drummer Steve Gadd turns producer here, for as far as I know the only time, so you can see why this unusual track is so percussion heavy. It's not just the sound though: even the words are weird, with the King of Tonga seducing a (presumably) American girl, having her arrested when she refuses his advances - and then learning to woo her properly. It's an old-fashioned, out of step idea of love that doesn't go at all with the 'true love' ideal that runs throughout almost all of Arty's solo work and yet the regression of the lyrics works well set against the progression of the modern production sound and Arty's lascivious wink is priceless, being about as out of character as The Spice Girls writing a decent song, The Republicans coming up with a candidate that isn't mad or a Bush or both - or Paul Simon getting into trouble for exploiting ethnic minorities (this was a strange period for Simon and Garfunkel!)
Another link between Simon and Garfunkel in this period is the backing crew. There are many musicians on this album traditionally thought of as 'Paul Simon men' - people like drummer Steve Gadd (who even stars in the 'One Trick Pony' film along with Paul), guitarist Hugh McCracken (who also oh so nearly joined the first line-up of Wings), pianist Nicky Hopkins (making his zillionth appearance on an AAA album and also sadly one of his last - he died in 1994 at the age of fifty) and saxophonist Michael Brecker (who is the saxophonist who looks like 'Zoot' from The Muppet Show on the 'Central Park' concert). Though Arty was still mad as hell at Paul for being unceremoniously dropped from the 'Hearts and Bones' album (itself the most 'Lefty' like album in the Paul Simon catalogue, full of guilt about the split with Carrie Fisher and backwards and forwards glances both), it's interesting that he spends so much time recording with the 'ready-made band' Paul had largely left behind while he was away working in Africa rather than his own usual backing crew, itself by now long dispersed after the long gap between albums. 'Lefty' does have a lot of that mid-1970s Paul Simon bounce to it (the first album and the non-Muscle Shoals bits of 'Rhymin' Simon' especially) underneath all that 1980s production stuff (which isn't actually as bad as most AAA albums of the period, used here as colour and texture rather than because everyone else is doing it or using it as the basis for everything, the complaint we've been making on a lot of our reviews recently!)
Perhaps re-acting to the feeling of not being quite so lonely anymore, 'Lefty' could also be considered an early example of those interminable 'duets' albums that everyone seemed to release at one stage or another from Frank Sinatra and Ray Davies down (odd that The Spice Girls never made one, given that it's traditionally what you do at the end of your career, which they were of course from their second single). The best of these is Arty's impressively intense-yet-zen duet with Leah Kunkel on 'I Have A Love' (the sister of drummer Russell Kunkel, who crops up on various CSN albums), though his work with Stephen Bishop on Bishop's own 'The Breakup' is also pretty strong. It's the duet with Kenny Rankin on 'I Wonder Why' that doesn't quite come off (it's the song out the three where Arty sounds like an extra on his own album), but then a 66% success rate for a 'duets' album is pretty high to begin with (Ray was down to about 4% on 'See My Friends', the worst album the Kink ever half-made).
However it's for the break with Arty's usual songwriters for which this album deserves the biggest congratulations. Instead of Jimmy Webb (who dominated 'Watermark' and 'Scissors Cut') or Gallagher and Lyle we get seven writers Arty never used before or will use again (in addition to three by usual standby Stephen Bishop). Some of these choices are, it has to be said, better than others and unusually works best when going somewhere totally new: Arty has a good voice for musicals (despite how badly his 'Some Enchanted Evening' record turned out) and the drama-with-subtleties of Bernstein-Sondheim is a good match for him; equally the power-pop of Kennedy-Rose's 'Love Is The Only Chain' reveals a whole new avenue to Garfunkel fans and Percy Sledge's 'When A Man Loves A Woman' impresses because Arty is the antithesis of soul (singing, at least here, with consummate detachment rather than primal yelling), bringing out a quiet thoughtful cerebral tone to what's usually a noisy emotional work. 'King Of Tonga' too covers more new ground in four minutes than some forty-minute Garfunkel albums. Alas elsewhere it is pretty much business as usual: aside from the lovely floaty feel of 'I Wonder Why' everything else feels like recycled emotion heard in better form on earlier Garfunkel records with the bookending songs 'This Is The Moment' and 'The Promise' sounding particularly disappointing. Had Arty stuck to his guns a bit more, accepted that the seven year gap and lack of promotion had already blown his commercial chances and appealed more to the longterm invested fan than the record company making a quick buck this record could have been oh so much better. Compared to the full onslaught of acid-laced tears that was 'Scissors Cut' then 'Lefty' is something of a backwards step - and yet as 'Lefty's title implies, this is an album that's also proud of being out-of-step with its times. Though a sizeable minority of fans don't like 'Lefty' for its quirkiness, actually that's the reason I love it so - and it's the more normal and, well, 'boring' tracks that gets in the way.
Overall, then, 'Lefty' might not have the emotional power of 'Scissors Cut' or the creativity or weight of 'Everything Waits To Be Noticed', but it's an impressive step forward from the Jimmy Webb covers of 'Watermark' or the patchiness of 'Fate For Breakfast'. Arty has a lot on his mind and while he's not getting involved in the songwriting process yet he's picking his songs with more care than he did in the 1970s and comes up with an album of complexity and shade that probably did a pretty good job at summing up where his head was at the time, hopeful for the future but still afraid to let the past go. Clearly an album like 'Lefty' was always going to struggle in the marketplace of 1988 when Stock Aitken Waterman were treated as a measure of success rather than simply excess as they are now. 'Lefty' is simply too emotional, thoughtful and, well, left-field for the world it was released in and only contributed to the world's image of Arty as a 'recluse' and an 'outsider' in this era. However this is to the album's benefit as it happens: yes there are some very 1980s production touches here (those panpipes on 'When A Man Loves A Woman' have a sell-by date that didn't last into 1989), but far less so than on other AAA albums of the same era as CBS Records seem to instinctively know not to chase after a hit that isn't there (they did 'Suite: FA' all to promote the album, to quote early 10cc) and Arty is more interested in his heartstrings than his bank balance. It's a good combination that really should have been tried again, instead of which we get such disasters as the half-album 'Up Til' Now' (which got turned into a compilation halfway through) and 'Some Enchanted Evening' (where Arty sings all the musical numbers from the Great American Songbook that people assume he should be perfect for - and then proves why he needs to be emotionally connected to what he's singing as per 'I Have A Love' or there's little point in listening). 'Lefty' is, at its best, a bold daring and revealing album that does well to go its own way in the world when no one else is; it's biggest flaw is it's inconsistency though as all too often it takes a 'right' turn into the sort of things everyone around Arty would be telling him were 'right' and the result is a good third of the album that you can tell Garfunkel neither believes in or sings particularly well. The other two-thirds, though, at least approach anything in the rest of his solo canon and 'Lefty' remains the best un-appreciated and un-noticed album after the aptly named 'Everything Waits To Be Noticed'.
Alright, I may have to take some of the above back: opening track 'This Is The Moment' is exactly the sort of slick, empty-minded, 1980s-production-heavy nonsense that most fans were probably expecting. It's the closest Arty ever came to sounding like he was entering the Eurovision Song Contest and even as a vague fan it's the sort of song that gets 'nul points' from the AAA jury. I expected better from established Cynthia Weil, here taking a holiday from her usual writing partner Barry Mann and working with David Foster, Linda Jenner and Ray Parker Jnr instead and can't quite believe it took four people to come up with both words and melody that have already been over-used in the exact same way in so many equally irritating songs. You can tell Arty has no faith in this one as he turns in the minimal amount he needs to do, complete with key change in the middle which ('Bridge Over Troubled Water' aside) really isn't his speciality as a singer (Art is much better at the slow-burn). Lyrically it's a case of boy meets girl, boy irritates girl and boy tries to stop girl slamming the door on their relationship. Trapped in the half-second when both parties are trying to work out if the split is final or not, the 'moment' is about working out whether his pleas to change and her lack of toleration or their combined stubbornness will win the day, all dressed up in twinkling synth riffs that suggest that nobody involved in this song really cares much either way. A depressingly ordinary start and as both the second single released before the album and the opening track probably did much to harm this LP's reputation in the hands of sarcastic fans.
'I Have A Love' enters in at the halfway point via a rumble from West Side Story, just after the storm of Anita's discussion with her sister Maria has gone past fever pitch and settled down into a calmer, more positive frame of mind. That's a shame: Arty could have pulled off the fire of the original no problem and without it the second half of the song doesn't quite pack the same emotional punch somehow. However, it's still a quality song (arguably the best song from 'West Side Story' and always overlooked) and Arty and guest duettest Leah Kunkel perform it well. In context of where Arty's life was heading you can tell that this song means a lot to him - that he is reluctantly admitting how deeply he is in love, even though he knows firsthand the pain love can cost him and even if you didn't know how the musical turned out (clue: it's based on 'Romeo and Juliet' where more of the cast die than your average blockbuster action movie) you can feel the storm clouds gathering and the doom in the room. After Arty (as Maria, weirdly) tries to intellectualise his feelings to tell his/her sister why he acknowledges her reasons why the match can't work but still can't say 'no' to them he responds as simply and directly as he can: 'When love comes on so strong, there is no right or wrong'. Both Art and Leah judge the mood right: this isn't a song of vengeance or control or passion but the slow uneasy acknowledgement that the heart has won over the head no matter how many arguments are thrown at it. Even though this is the second-most p1980s-production filled song on the album, there's also a lightness of touch about this arrangement which is impressive and gives the song a chance to breathe. Quality material sung by quality voices - things are looking up.
Only to fall again like a stone with the album's weakest track 'So Much In Love'. The album's third and most successful single (albeit, not by much), this is perhaps the silliest song Art ever recorded (and that's including the children's album Art made in later life). Originally a big doo-wop hit for one-hit wonders The Tymes in 1963, Garfunkel's cover is more conservative and less inventive than his similar tried at period material like 'I Only Have Eyes For You' (which sounds a completely different song). Arty tries to sing like a choirboy of eleven (the one on the album cover perhaps?) even though he'd have been getting on for 22 when this song came out and you can tell that his vocal is insincere and made for 'fun', even though this song arguably reflected his feelings just six months before he married his bride-to-be. The premise is simple - perhaps a little too simple - with two lovers strolling down the beach and so lost in each other's worlds that nothing else really exists. Interestingly the song ends with the narrator being adamant about committing, getting married and being together forever - exactly the sort of commitment Laurie was desperate for from Arty, suggesting that Garfunkel is equally desperate not the make the same mistake with Kim. However considering how much this song must have meant - and that, like almost all the material on these Garfunkel albums the track was chosen by the singer himself - it's odd just how passionless and detached he sounds. This is a quick holiday jaunt rather than a lifelong offer of devotion and compared to 'All I Know' or 'I believe' Arty doesn't really sound much in love at all. The backing track, like many doo-wop re-makes, also misses the point badly, going for a frankly irritating boom-chikka-bah shuffle that quickly becomes boring, unlike the actually rather sweet tone of the original.
'Slow Breakup' falls somewhere in the middle, the first of three Stephen Bishop songs on the album but the only one to feature the composer on the track itself. Arty sings like a bird on a song that's closest out of all the songs here to 'traditional' Garfunkel (and with no sign of the 1980s on this timeless track anywhere) and the material is pretty strong, detailing the slow gradually unwinding of a thread in a relationship that once promised so much. Bishop is quick not to paint the blame in either corner and much as the pair in the song don't like it, they've just gradually moved apart and ended up with less in common than they originally thought. Arty alternates between strong, stirring desperation and dispassionate sighs, which is a good way of handling this kind of a song (good friend Bishop may well have written it with Garfunkel in mine as the song certainly appeals to his strengths as a singer). The strength of this song lies in the detail: Art's narrator has got so used to feeling dead inside while blotting out the sound of his once significant other crying that he's successfully managed to blot it out - at least to himself, if not to us who can read between the lines. This isn't some big row that can be put right but too many wrongs adding up over time, with both sides calling out for affection they can't get from the other anymore. Alas a mature lyric is slightly let down by the melody which just kind of sits there and floats despite all the turmoil going on when you read the lyric sheet or study the track properly, while Bishop's counter-vocal (which is clearly meant to be heard as if 'across the room' and sings very much in contrast to Arty's own) is a nice idea that just sounds a muddle on record. The result is an impressive song that ever so nearly works but needs a few tweaks to be a true classic.
'Love Is The Only Chain' is another experiment that works rather better. A slow-burning song with a punchy chorus that somehow manages to remain utterly 'lefty' and oddball, it's exactly the sort of direction Arty should be going in. Nine years on from the loss of Laurie, Arty wonders what it was that made him so reluctant to commit to someone who was clearly the love of his life and comes to the conclusion - via the words of the under-rated Kennedy Rose country-music group - that it's the scary thought that marriage is forever. As the song is written it's an upbeat track about how love is forever and how, in contrast to 'Slow Breakup', the very realisation of being in love with someone who loves you is enough to stay compatible forever, whatever life throws at you. Nothing else matters: family, work, political or musical differences as long as love is there, the ultimate 'chain' holding you fast. In the hands of Kennedy Rose this is a beautiful love song about how a feeling so strong can never be diluted by time or differences. However, in context, the theme of this song is more that 'love' is the chain: though Laurie is gone, Arty still loves her and always will do so his worries about spending the rest of his life with her have turned into a nasty joke - he'll never be free of someone he once loved and realises that he'll always miss her, even when she's no longer there. Compared to the original Arty's take is darker, the song opening with an ugly synth-ping that sounds like a relentless ticking clock, while for the most part Arty sings this song as scared and fragile, rather than bursting with joy and exuberance. Only when we finally hit the delayed chorus where two Arty's, plus a guesting Kennedy-Rose, soar in tandem (their different approaches to the same note - one slow and cautious, the other fast and full of life - wrapping around each other like lover's arms or strands of DNA) does the song finally sound like a song of love rather than loathing. The contrast works well and while most Kennedy-Rose fans (yes, there are a few) look down on this song for messing with the original so badly, actually Arty's is the better version, adding a layer of depth and doubt that isn't there in the music without sacrificing that burst of joy central to it. One of Arty's better cover versions.
Over on side two, Percy Sledge's 'When A Man Loves A Woman' is a far more well known song given an equally divisive and experimental makeover here. The original is pure soul, an outpouring of emotion that can't be held in check no matter how much the narrator tries. Arty's version though is sung with all the dispassion of an audiobook of somebody's tax returns - a very cerebral take on an emotive subject. This works better than you might suppose : after all, the original of the song is written in the third person and even though Sledge's original isn't fooling anybody that the song's really about him and a missus the lyrics are more observational than involved and thus suit Arty's professorial take. The moment when Arty finally gets going some two-and-a-half minutes into the song is also all that bit warmer and heartfelt than it might otherwise have been, as he turns from cold rain to warm honey in the time it takes for a gonzo panpipe solo to make a lot of squealing, squawling noises. This is truly one of the strangest moments on any Garfunkel record and either suggests Arty was trying to add something different and/or contemporary to the track without really understanding what he was doing or that, like Paul and 'Graceland', he was aiming at showing off the 'universality' of the message by pulling back to reveal that we're in an African Jungle where the same rules of courtship apply and have been going on for centuries. The random way it's been inserted here, though, I still sense it's the former. Thankfully a second solo towards the end of the song features a nice use of horns which soften the blow of the 1980s ice-cold synthesisers heard since the beginning and thaw out this track completely into a love-fest. Given Arty's feelings across the 1980s, it's hard not to see this slow switch as being in some way autobiographical. The result is a cover version that confused many by playing around with so many details of the original and even without the panpipes the result is a little too slow and stiff to work as well as it might. However the slow turnaround from ice maiden to emotional thunderstorm is nicely handled and Arty clearly has an ear for unusual and left-field re-arrangements - it's a shame he didn't tinker with more songs the way he does here.
'I Wonder Why' is probably the album highlight. This song isn't out of left-field at all, but unlike the other more traditional songs on 'Lefty' Arty sings this one straight and with such passion and control you can tell that it means a lot to the singer. This isn't your average Peter Skellern track but even the most generic writers have flashbulb moments when they suddenly fit their lives into their job and I sense that's what happened here; equally Arty doesn't always perform as 'himself' in his songs but this is a true and total Garfunkel vocal all the way through. The narrator is in love but the fact has only slowly dawned on him - he doesn't feel worthy, he wasn't looking for it and he'd long ago assumed that love was never going to find him. However, standing with his beloved on a beach and staring at the waves below and the stars above he feels as if this was all 'natural' and fated and suddenly he feels better about exploring the unknown. It's a sweet song that's born for the pureness of Arty's voice. Unfortunately someone invited Kenny Rankin along to sing and the gravel-voiced singer-songwriter is a less natural fit, both with the song and Arty's voice (which is a shame as he's actually a good performer in his own right on his own material - James Taylor fans should check him out). 'I Wonder Why' he sings at all, given that this isn't a composition he had any hand in, although it makes sense that Arty would cross paths with him one day given that the pair grew up just a few blocks apart in New York (Rankin being only a year older than Arty). Even though this song would have better as a 'single' than a 'duet' it's a good choice, though.
The most divisive song on the album is surely 'The King Of Tonga', Steve Gadd's mad take on what must be the normally straight-laced Stephen Bishop's maddest song. Tonga is one of the few countries left that haven't executed or outlawed their elitist Royal Family, which is a shame in this democratic age but there you go (and there goes my knighthood) - in fact they have the most recently crowned Royal anywhere in the world at the time of writing, following King Topou VI's crowning in July 2015 (so at least Tonga gets a higher turnover than Britain does - when is Queen Betsy retiring exactly?) Tonga is really the collective name for a group of islands and was once known as the 'Friendly Isles' after explorer Captain Cook was invited to a national feast day (little knowing that his guests were plotting to kill him till he made his escape). This history lesson has a sort of relevance as, whilst firmly set in the present day, 'King Of Tonga' deals with the same sort of wolf-in-sheeps clothing. A woman from a different country is told 'you could be a model' and is encouraged to fly back to Tonga to meet the ruling Monarch. Rejecting his advances, she calls the police - who of course are all in his employ. However there's a 'King and I' style twist as he admits that he was wrong and she deserves to be wooed - while she realises that there's no need as she's fallen in love with him anyway and becomes his Queen. Is it true love in the Art Garfunkel tradition? Probably not, given the twinkle in Arty's voice throughout - especially on the innuendo-filled middle eight ('His daddy told her son, you squeeze her tight...and taught him everything he knows, so the King steals the daddy's clothes!') which is a whole new side to the usually gentlemanly Garfunkel we've never heard before and yet which suits him oddly well. Though the song has absolutely nothing in common with true Tonga foreign policy and is pure imagination (I'm still up for a Tonga knighthood by the way - their Royalty actually do something!), it's an intriguing story-song that works well as a moral tale of innocence and corruption where both sides are equally bad (she ends up in Tonga under false pretences, but the hint is that she stays to fleece him out of his money). Musically this is a very different kind of song too, with a 'Paul Simon' style sea of percussion provided by producer Steve Gadd , a 'Pet Shop Boys' style bed of keyboards and 'Beach Boys Pet Sounds Era' style harmonicas all thrown into a melting pot where they work better than they have any right to. A recording that sounds unlike anything else in my collection - never mind my Art Garfunkel collection - 'King Of Tonga' gets by through sheer cheek and bravado and remains one of the bravest solo Garfunkel songs. Arty should have recorded more lefty tracks like this one.
Alas the final Stephen Bishop contribution 'If Love Takes You Away' is so ordinary by comparison you struggle to believe this is the same writer-singer combination. Arty sings with a slight falsetto on a simple bland pop song that again deals with the album theme of commitment. Arty's narrator has been putting off asking his girl to marry him and yet his subconscious wants to know why - their life could be a journey and adventure and wasting a single, precious moment of that time together makes no sense at all. You can almost hear Laurie's ghost nodding her head in approval at this as the narrator 'bets his heart and wins a kiss'. Oddly we never hear much about where love takes the narrator - all we learn is that it isn't 'here' and that 'it will take you where you want to go', but just as the song is getting interesting a verse and the start of a chorus in the song just stays there, repeating it's refrain over and over while drifting away without really making much of an impression. Arty is good, Leah on the backing vocals again is even better and yet somehow this song and especially this arrangement of it never quite connects. There are far better and more suitable Stephen Bishop songs out there to cover.
The album also ends on a puzzlingly low-key note with 'The Promise', a Nick Holmes song that's one of those moody 'atmospheric' pieces that doesn't really have much of a melody. Arty sings quite deep and low on this slow-burning synth-filled epic as he again builds up the courage to truly commit himself to the love of his life. However he's still feeling inadequate: 'Harmony' and 'Melody' he understands, 'Orchestra' playing a 'Symphony' makes sense as does 'boy gets girl' - but her getting him? Is that really a match? The promise isn't as romantic as you might expect from the singer who once soared on 'I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)' or '(I Love You And That's) All I Know' : basically Arty promises to be 'honest' and to 'give you nothing to fear', which is nice to hear but not exactly the romantic words to sweep his beloved off her feet. Still, it sounds as if even that was quite an effort for a narrator whose clearly out of his emotional depth and the song keeps shimmering and swirling with pregnant pauses as if he's trying to force out words that don't usually come out of his mouth. That's an intriguing idea on paper, but in practice the song soon becomes annoying as it stops again just when things have got moving and Arty, brilliant singer as he is, struggles with these formless songs that don't call for his strengths of emotion, pitch or control. The result is a lacklustre end to the album and perhaps one attempt too many to come out of left-field.
Still, 'Lefty' gets marks for bravery - some of the time at least - even when the results aren't always as palatable or as consistent as on earlier LPs. Though not everything on this forgotten record is worth rescuing, the better parts of the album are well worth hearing being both a particularly good example of just how well produced and sung the Garfunkel solo LPs are and how revealing and fitting most of the song choices generally are. Arty may be rusty after so many years away and is clearly still struggling with his conscience and his heartstrings but 'Lefty' isn't one of those awful albums made in the artist's blackest days which merrily pretends everything is going to be alright - instead it's an album that works best when it's being fragile and brave enough to admit that the usual Garfunkel pure romance heard on earlier albums is at best a hopeful ideal to aim for and at worst a silly fairy tale. The most 'real' of Garfunkel LPs (assuming that 'Scissors Cut's black moods and dark humour is as un-real as the romance of 'Angel Clare' and 'Breakaway') 'Lefty' is the quirky album fans had been waiting for ever since the Simon and Garfunkel split and while it could have gone much further in the end it still extends our knowledge and understanding of Arty as a personality a great deal while at the same exploring his range as a singer. Though not without its faults and easy to overlook, 'Lefty' is a rather lovely album that, in the words of the much-delayed sequel, has waited far too long to be noticed.