Monday, 6 March 2017
Art Garfunkel "Scissors Cut" (1981)
Art Garfunkel "Scissors Cut" (1981)
Scissors Cut/A Heart In New York/Up In The World/Hang On In/So Easy To Begin//Can't Turn My Heart/The French Waltz/The Romance/In Cars/That's All I've Got To Say
'I close my eyes and walk away, trying not to hear the words you say'
Both cutting edge and unusually blunt, 'Scissors Cut' is one hell of a break-up album and re-defined forever what an Art Garfunkel LP should be right at the time when people stopped listening. This is a tragedy for, good as Arty's interpretations of romanticism and love could be, by his own admission the singer didn't have much access to love across his first two decades in the public eye, marrying once in the mid-1970s quite disastrously. Breakups, however, were Arty's speciality and never more than here on this fascinating record, which is never quite what it seems. 'Fate For Breakfast' had the feel of doom hanging over it, from the title to the track listing, and so it proved just three months after the album's release when Arty's big relationship number two ended in tragedy. Actress Laurie Bird (AAA fans might know her from Dennis Wilson's only film 'Two Lane Blacktop') was the first true love of Garfunkel's life and her death at her own hands in his own apartment from an overdose of valium while he was away filming the movie 'Bad Timing' clearly changed him forever. A naturally private man who hated scandal, Arty mainly spent the years after her death staying away from the public eye and trying not to draw attention to it, but still he felt he had to say something. Hence this album, which cuts deeper than usual full of songs about hurt and loss and devastation and yet which never speaks directly about death; almost all of these carefully chosen songs are about endings and Arty's expression-filled voice finds something to connect with on all of them, but far from the album of 'Bright Eyes' we were all expecting (the track even appears in US copies of the LP in place of 'The Romance' despite the fact it had already appeared on 'Fate For Breakfast'), this is more a 'where did it go wrong?' and a 'where did you go?' than an 'I can't believe you aren't there anymore' record. The clues, though, are there: the album is dedicated to 'Bird' and that's also her ghostly form on the back cover, a 'chest' shot instead of a head shot as if she's no longer in focus.
The biggest clue, though, perhaps is the front cover. The last few records feature Arty writ large in profile in various states of solemn dress. On this one he wears a particularly smart tuxedo and looks to all the world as if he's carrying on, business as usual. However just above his bow-tie is a plaster stuck above his jugular vein, the place many suicides choose to cut to stem the blood the quickest (it's impossible to see on CD but is plainly there on vinyl once you know to look for it). This is a singer not a million miles away from suicide himself and still hurting, while that cold intense stare is also quite different to the usual warmth of Arty's other sleeves, the look of a haunted man trying not to cry. Further nostalgic pictures inside reveal the life Arty intended for himself along with his golden girl - one as a teacher pointing to a chalk board and another in his role in the film 'Catch-22', the last time he had to re-start a career. Both seem to point to stop-off points on the road where Arty's life could have been different and he could have been happy; instead he's left pondering choices made.
The biggest tragedy of the Laurie Bird story is that some people close to her and him think that it was a cry for help with a twist, that Laurie had timed it for the moment when Arty was due back at his apartment and would whisk her away to safety and become her knight in shining armour - making her feel more 'loved' and him feel more sure that Laurie was the one for her. For the second time in a decade and in a tragic re-run of what happened with 'Catch 22', fate intervened and the movie shoot over-ran so Arty didn't get home when he expected to and didn't save her in time. Laurie, of course, should have guessed this: she was an actress, she was used to shoots over-running and knew as well as anyone that an actor is only there at the whims of their director. Arty wanted to be home, but his hands were tied. It seems likely that instead she put her future in the hands of fate: that if this relationship was meant to be then Arty really would have got home in time to save her; it was a gamble but she put her fate in the hands of the universe and tragically she lost.
Fate may have been the title of the previous Art Garfunkel solo LP, but it's really the theme of this one. 'I've been so far away from you, while standing by your side' pleads Arty on 'So Easy To Begin' as he re-thinks all he's been through in the past couple of years. Love fades due to the natural course of things, while at other times it was pre-determined that it should blossom. You can rail against the changing tides if you want, as on 'Hang On In', but it won't do you any good - life has other plans sometimes. The bomb in the title track is man-made and optional, but the fate of two lovers is destiny and cannot be changed or altered however hard the pair of lovers try. 'Up In The World' too celebrates man-made success, that pales feebly by comparison to the sheer splendour that life has to offer. 'I can't Turn Away' admits that wanting to be in love once more is a helpless, stupid idea that will only end in sorrow when fate has parted the couple - but still Arty longs to do just that, his heart not having quite caught up with what the world is trying to tell him yet. So many of these narrators want to make their life turn out differently, but their hands are tied - by their partners, by luck, by fate.
'Scissors Cut' is the most thoughtful of even Arty's run of thoughtful albums. It's also his bravest, given the deep subject matters of most of the songs here and in many ways his best, beaten only by the even more autobiographical record 'Everything Waits To Be Noticed' in 2003 (which is also about Laurie on many songs). It's easily the best he's sounded on record away from Paul Simon, sleep-singing his way through dense background textures as if he's lost and trying to find his way back home, his voice more emotional than it's been on recent albums and quivering with feeling that he can't quite bring himself to confront head-on yet. We've been used, on the last few albums, to hearing Arty fully in charge of his destiny after a couple of false starts on 'Angel Clare' and 'Breakaway' - but here he's a passive force, struggling to keep up and trapped in a world he doesn't understand. Only twice on this album does he break through the fog long enough to prove he can still do it, on 'A Heart In New York' this song's curio (added to the recent setlist at Simon and Garfunkel's reunion in Central Park to give the crowd something to warm to) and 'Hang On In', one last desperate attempt to sound like the Garfunkel of old on a song that knows things will never be the way they were. All too often the solo Garfunkel albums rather pass you by, without any real album signature sound to tie them together or anything to make them 'special'. 'Scissors Cut', however, is an album where nearly everything fits together beautifully and which couldn't have been made any other way. Even in a back catalogue of similar overlooked gems, this is the solo record that got away.
Which is not to say that this album is perfect. Aware that he's entering a whole new world, Arty looks not so much to new writers as old friends doing something new. Jimmy Webb gets three whole songs on the album - all are better than the ones that appeared on 'Watermark' a couple of LPs ago but only the title track really goes towards the dark place the album is aiming for and Webb remains a less than sympathetic voice for Garfunkel's purity and spirit. 'The French Waltz' is a bonkers experiment too far, an attempt to stretch the Garfunkel style into Parisian music on a record that for the most part sounds as if it was made in Transylvania. Many of the backing tracks sound spookily similar too, dominated by the same Larry Knechtel keyboards, Rock Morotta drums and Dean parks guitar parts, whatever the 'blackboard' on the inner sleeve proudly states about how many diverse musicians worked on this album. The LP demands a strong finale and instead gets a single verse surrounded by strings. This record is also ridiculously short at just 32 minutes and badly needs another two really strong tracks to become the classic it so easily could have been, feeling as if it's even shorter than that at times. Though we've talked about this album living dangerously, in truth it also plays safe a couple of times too often for comfort too. Scissors Cut still needs a little bit of pruning in other words.
Ah well, no matter. Every time you think 'Scissors Cut' has slotted back into being just another Art Garfunkel LP it surprises you out of the blue all over again. The record begins with love played out not over roundabouts or Scarborough Fairs but the impending doom of a nuclear holocaust which once seemed as certain as the lovers' feelings for each other; now the bomb hadn't gone off but they've gone their separate ways. 'Hang On In' is a candidate for the greatest Garfunkel rocker (not that he did many in his solo work), perhaps equal with 'Love Is The Only Chain' on a storming moody riff-filled mini masterpiece. 'The Romance' takes everything we're used to hearing (that piano, that guitar, that production gloss) and makes it scary, the sound of a memory of something that used to be so perfect it's mocking the narrator in the present. The final song doesn't quite manage to last a verse, surprising us by claiming that 'I love you' is all the narrator really wants to say. And then there's the biggest surprise: weeks on from the Concert Park reunion there's Paul Simon's voice darting its way through Jimmy Webb's 'In Cars'. Unlike 'My Little Town' (clearly a Paul Simon song) or 'What A Wonderful World' (where Paul's harmony is heard straight away), this appearance is kept 'hidden' and is very much Simon guesting on Garfunkel's natural home territory. A final song of reflection and nostalgia for perfect times, it's clearly chosen to represent early days with Laurie but feels like it represents the pair's friendship too ('I remember you, everything was new' is Paul's refrain, while the song chills out with a line from 'The Girl From The North Country', a song similar enough to 'Scarborough Fair' to catch many fans' ears).
There's one other reminder of old days working on this album. Roy Halee is back, for the first time since Angel Clare nearly a decade earlier and the record is no small triumph for him either with it's intriguing production techniques of making a lot out of very little. While Arty wasn't sure yet what he wanted to sound like in 1972, here he already has a technique set in stone and Roy does well to subvert that constantly, playing with our idea of what a Garfunkel album will sound like before pulling the rug away from under us every time we're just getting comfortable. Like many of Roy's best productions, there's a lot going on here but it's all orderly, with nothing getting in the way and with Arty's voice central to the mess going on around him - even when it's clear he'd rather be hiding in the sidelines. The two old friends didn't leave on the best of terms in 1972, with Arty's perfectionism driving Roy up the wall (he had more fun recording in a few quick days with Paul), but here the pair instinctively understand what the other needs: Arty needs to sound small and fragile, Roy's production needs to sound big and strong. It's a good mixture for most of the record, only really letting go around the middle when the trick is played once too often.
Though Laurie died in New York, a 'typical' victim of the outsider mentality talked about in the papers (the busiest city on Earth is the loneliest place to live if you feel cut off from everybody) this record also feels like a homage to Arty's home town. 'A Heart In New York' was written by fellow New Yorker Steve Gallagher after glimpsing the skyline through a window when he got 'home' for the first time in a long time and can perhaps be seen as Arty's feelings on coming 'home' after his long movie shoot too. New York was taking a bit of a kicking at the time: it wasn't just Laurie, but John Lennon's death at 'home' in the Dakota while this album was being made in Wally Heider's in LA that had the city in the news (the papers neglecting to mention the fact that Mark Chapman, Lennon's assassin, divided his time between Texas, Georgia and Hawaii. Even the city's other favourite son, Paul Simon, was busy elsewhere finishing off his 'One Trick Pony' shoot. So it was left to Arty to proudly sing about his home city and why he loved it so much, offering a much nicer friendlier take on the city full of welcoming strangers even if it 'cost' him his girlfriend waiting for him. Not for Arty the speculation of what might have been - he's proud of where he grew up and his heart belongs there. A certainty for the album even before he sang it with Paul at the Central Park reunion shows, this is the album's upbeat optimism it badly needs, the one song that points out that memories can be good for us and past experiences can shape us for good as well as ill. Without this track near the beginning and the false-dawn of 'Hang On In' this might have been a very depressing album indeed; with these two tracks in place it merely sounds 'real'.
Overall, then, 'Scissors Cut' is an impressive entry into the Garfunkel canon, allowing the singer to deal with grief without getting stuck there. Arty's problem was that he couldn't yet write his feelings out in song the way that so many singer-songwriters including Paul could; instead the best that he could hope for was to reach out to some like-minded individuals who could express how he felt and then adapt that feeling. On that score Arty chose wisely, with a majority of the songs here excellent at expressing the inexpressible but without going so head over heels into grief that he left his audience behind. Indeed very few fans even realised that this was an album full of grieving, given how little he talked about it or the reasons for making it and even without the knowledge critics seem to consider this one of Arty's more cohesive efforts without quite putting their finger on why. There's a darkness and vulnerability to this record that few of Arty's other records match and he's not afraid to go to these places even if everything is still often tied up neatly with an orchestral bow. Just as the title refers to something usually sweet (or at least reserved for sweet occupations such as sewing or crafting) that can be used as a weapon in the right/wrong circumstances, so this LP takes what so usually ends up being a tad on the glossy schmaltzy side of Arty's art and uses it to puncture the production skin. While I wouldn't wish what happened to the singer on anyone, it's no coincidence that this downturn in fortunes instigates an upturn in creativity. The one real shame about this record is that it pretty much had to end here, with Arty becoming a recluse for the next five years going on long walks, reading lots of books (catalogued on shelves in the order Arty read them, complete with notes) and this time determined to make the most of the third great love of Arty's life, actress-director Penny Marshall, who was Arty's partner for most of the next five years and helped him overcome his loss. The next record won't be until 1986 and it will be a throwaway Christmas record, with the next 'proper' album in 1988 'Lefty' a last desperate roll of the dice that reverts back to commercialism and modernity. On this album little is commercial and most things are timeless, from the heart the way every good album should be made.
'If they ever dropped the bomb, you said, Alan's Album Archives would still be writing posts, and I would still be getting notifications from your flipping ghost!' Yes, the title track of 'Scissors Cut' is the only AAA song brave enough to use nuclear annihilation as a metaphor for love. That automatically makes this the bravest Jimmy Webb song around by some distance, but what's braver is that this song doesn't go where you expect it. A love that's stable in a world that isn't would be the perfect metaphor; instead this song claims that even love is insubstantial and can ebb and flow and slowly disintegrate in quite a different way to a nuclear threat. The ear-catching opening is easily the best start to a Garfunkel album because it catches us by surprise. The first line goes exactly where you'd expect ('I'd search for you in the flames') but the second is already pulling out the rug from underneath us ('But now we act like two people who don't know each other's names'). Love becomes a war, with two halves of a couple that used to think the same now dangerously out of synch with each other, fighting an endless battle of rock, scissors paper where one side 'wins' in turn and yet both ultimately lose. Though many fans complain the arrangement of this song is too sugary, that's exactly what's needed to counteract the harsh words and a reminder that things weren't always like this - 'Scissors Cut' isn't the sound of a couple that hate each other but one that no longer loves each other and that makes all the difference on this nostalgic bittersweet song. Art sounds shocked, stunned. How did it get to this? He doesn't know why they fight, that the only possible outcome is that 'she will go and he will miss her' and yet he can't stop himself on an excellent vocal that manages to be emotional without getting carried away. A guesting Andrew Gold, taking a break from working with 10cc this same year, adds some blistering guitar stings alongside Dean Parks that liven up the song a great deal while Leah Kunkel (wife of drummer Russell) adds the first of four subtle harmony vocals here, turning the song from one person's pain into a duet. A blistering beginning to the album, with everything that we associate with Arty (romance, strings, glossy production) turned inwards so that everything feels alien and strange.
'A Heart In New York' is pretty but feels as if it runs against the grain of the album a little. As we've seen, it's a slightly defensive response to the knocking of Arty and writer Steve Gallagher's home city in an era when it was under fire but it contains none of the misery of the rest of the album and merely the beauty. Arty aptly sings his heart out though on this sweet song about coming home, looking out the window and recognising all those landmarks that make him feel safe. This is a sweet song, with a lovely melody that keeps unfolding layer by layer, like the city outside the windows. However the lyrics are realistic enough to declare it's 'a place where you should not wander after dark' and that what the narrator feels is a 'scene like all those movies', but still he's overcome by the sheer awe and love he feels for his hometown. The music sums that feeling up nicely, full of strings and a guitar riff that subtly tug at the heart-strings and sounds more like relaxing in a warm bath than beating us over the head with how wonderful everything is. By the end of the song everything that was wrong in the narrator's heart has turned right, with 'a heart in New York, a love in her eye, an open door and a friend for the night'. Really, though, it's more about coming home than where home happens to be - the polar opposite to 'My Little Town' this is a place that might not be visited very often but always feels safe and welcoming. Without the depth of the rest of the album there's not many places to go and this song lacks the courage of the best of the album, but Arty's vocal makes it clear just how much this song means to him and how much he agrees with the sentiment and Roy Halee's busy but never crowded production gets the feel pretty spot on too.
'Up In The World' is a Clifford T Ward song that's amongst the more upright and classical in Arty's canon. It doesn't sound much like Arty's usual work, despite the sweeping strings, but that's to the song's advantage as it allows the singer to really be in charge of this track, singing alone against an orchestra at times. You can see why this song about a girl the narrator used to fancy before she moved on to better, more famous things would have appealed in his desperate search for both his own career identity away from Simon and Garfunkel and the aspiring actress whose just been taken from him, while perhaps trying to see things from Laurie's point of view as the nearly-star herself left at home while her boyfriend gets all the applause. It's a multi-layered song this one which tries hard to be kind and supportive and is more than a little proud of what she's gone on to become ('It's all to your credit'), but also rather sour and bitter, angry that someone who already seemed perfect to him had to change and move on at all. Wasn't she happy with him? Wasn't what they had enough? 'It's such a shame' he sighs, not because he thinks she isn't worthy of her fame but because he no longer feels like he knows her and certainly doesn't spend time with her, with an inevitable ending right around the corner. The song ends bitterly, complaining about 'your weak excuses and your condescending ways and your all-too frequent nights alone', with Arty reaching a zealous finale that finally breaks through the surface to what he really thinks. As someone whose been in this situation, long ago eclipsed by someone who was never going to hang around at my level all their lives, it's amazing how powerful and accurate this song is to a mix of feelings given that it's made up of just one longish verse of thirteen lines. Arty isn't quite the right authoritarian singer for it but he still gives his all and manages to tease out this song's darker side at just the right speed while the orchestra slowly turns from sugary sweet to sickly sour. Not the most listenable or immediate song in the Garfunkel canon, but an impressive attempt to go somewhere new.
'Hang On In' is an impressive piece by Norman Salitt (biggest hit: Air Supply's 'Here I Am Just When I Thought I Was Over You'), much closer to the electric Simon and Garfunkel style than anything we've had on a Garfunkel since 'Breakaway'. This burst of aggression suddenly kicks in without a pause from the lethargy of the last track and finds Arty trying to come to terms with a heavy loss that hurts so badly. Arty is feeling lost and 'empty', aware that he's given 'too much away' in a relationship and has lost himself along with his lover. He's never sounded more vulnerable than on the verses or more in need of a hug, crying himself to sleep and hanging around a telephone that never calls. He tries to set things right with a gloriously catchy chorus full of good advice as he urges himself to 'hang on in', to 'be strong' and with the hope that tomorrow's going to be a 'brighter day!' The song even moves into a major key, going all Eurovisony as it tries to dance it's way to better health. But the brilliance of the song is that just when we think it's all going to be ok the song de-rails again, an electric guitar passage leading straight back into the dark minor key verses. There's even a minor key that slinks further into minor key fury before suddenly bucking the melancholy mood and dropping several keys to the major again. Arty isn't ready to move on yet after his broken heart though and finds his mind wandering, searching for reasons things didn't work out. Eventually he concludes that for all his optimism the only thing that's going to make him feel better is 'time' and that he will find love and feel this way again, one day, though it might take a while to get there. Lovely as many Art Garfunkel orchestral ballads are, it's great to hear the singer back fronting what sounds like a 'proper' band once more and a sea of guitarists including Dean Parks and Michael and Jeffrey Stratton do him proud. In the end it's a toss-up whether the darkness gets him or the light, the song returning to an instrumental version of the verse before fading on a final chorus, as if the narrator is slowly finding his way back to normality but still isn't quite there yet. Catchy, but deep, this is exactly the sort of thing Arty should have been doing, acknowledging his broken heart while trying to find a way out of the gloom alongside his audience.
Side one ends on Bangles songwriter Jules Shear's piece 'So Easy To Begin'. It's the most typically Garfunkel moment on the album - a slow glossy heartbreaking ballad about how easy it is to fall in love with someone. However even this song, full of the glow of romance and the joys of springtime, has a darker side. Arty's narrator is looking back in retrospect at how wonderful a love was but acknowledges he didn't really pay it full attention when it was taking place. He realises to his horror that he was adrift from his lover even when 'standing by your side' and that he had to learn 'lessons' during a forced time apart. The hidden theme of the song is that either the couple have broken up, just as he was getting to feel safe and offering up more of himself in a relationship, or that she's died. You can see why this song would appeal to Arty so much at the time and the sentiments about wishing you'd made more of a relationship you thought could take all the time in the world but ended abruptly are common thoughts to people who've been through the same: all those things you were always going to say but could never quite bring yourself to make thinking you'd come back to them later. Though again this tries to be a happy song with a chorus keeps coming back to how easy it was to fall in love, the verses are quite ferocious and more about how hard it is to ever stop once you've fallen, whatever happens to a partnership to make it fail or drift apart. Arty sings as if he hasn't even noticed the bitter sentiments at the heart of this song, drifting by with the coo of a teenager on a first date.
Over on side two Arty is playing round with the world's favourite songwriter of the moment Eric Kaz, best known for the song 'Love Has No Pride' covered by everyone in the country-rock community from Johnny Cash to Linda Ronstadt. Arty, though, goes for a more obscure and braver choice with 'Can't Turn My Heart Away', a more heartfelt and direct take on the same theme as 'So Easy To Begin'. On one of the album highlights, Arty admits to both himself and her that a love affair is finally over - and what a fool he's been not to have prepared himself for the fact. The signs were all there, the 'constant goodbyes' both of the lovers were always covering up and his denial at hearing 'the words you tried to say'. But it's all out in the open now and he feels a mixture of relief and heartbreak, no longer able to hide his head in the sand and pretend it isn't happening. Arty can't 'see', both physically from his tears and emotionally from his confusion but still he ups and walks away because he realises it's the best thing he can do for both of them. Only for a final verse to rescind that: he can't walk away, he cares too much and he's hurting too badly. Really struggling to do the right thing anyway he comes up with a neat if heartbroken twist: 'You go' he sighs, 'but I'll stay', unwilling to give up what meant so much to him. Once again you can see why this song would have appealed to Arty in his circumstances. It's the goodbye he never got to say to Laurie out loud and he may well have identified with the narrator who didn't want to listen to the problems until it became too late to do anything about it (Laurie's mother also committed suicide when she was young - and like many people whose parents committed suicide it gets filed away as an 'option' when things get too bad rather than a taboo some would never consider). Even by Art Garfunkel standards this vocal is a thing of beauty, full of tears only just about held in check. Only the song's slightly anonymous melody lets the side down but even that drifts along sleepily in true Garfunkel tradition (sounding not unlike 'Crying In My Sleep' from 'Watermark').
'The French Waltz' is probably the album's weakest cut despite being the best known song her at the time of first release, with Adam Mitchell's song a bit hit for Neil Young's old duets partner Nicolette Larson (Arty may have known Adam from his time in short-lived band The Paupers, picked as one of Paul Simon's choices of talent when he was on the board of the Monterey Pop Festival committee back in 1967; Arty, much shyer than his partner but also keen on promoting talent, chose not to be on the board but would have kept his ears open too so the band may well have been his suggestion in the first place). This is an oddball track about falling in love under Parisian skies, but the lyrics don't necessarily go where the tune does (not least the lack of real French instruments). This is a song hat, like much of the album, sounds more like falling out of love with it's sad reflective acoustic silence and it's low-key vocal. The melody seems to have a down-turn at the corners at the end of each verse, like a frown appearing at the mouth. The lyrics too seem to emphasise not the stars in the sky or the look in your eye but the narrator again kicking himself for being stupid. 'I know I'm not the wisest of men' sings Arty 'And I guess I have the look of a fool' as he acknowledges that love is a kind of sickness. Somehow that part comes over more convincingly than the silly in-French chorus (which translates as: 'When I see your face I feel I love you in any language, Mary!') or the final verse that even in old age people will be laughing at the couple for being so in love. A rather anodyne, anonymous and over-glossy backing track also sucks all the heart out of this song which is perhaps a little too awkward for its own good. Had Arty done it properly (ie more like the famous version) and kept it safe for a different, more normal album it might have worked but compared to the rest of the record it's clear the singer's heart isn't in this one.
Kaz's second song on the album 'The Romance' is another highlight though, making it all the stranger it got the push in favour of the standalone 'Bright Eyes' single in America (it's on European copies of 'Fate For Breakfast' after being a surprise UK #1) and is one of Arty's rarest recordings in his homeland. Poor justice for a scintillating song that oozes passion and drama and is perfectly cast for Arty's strengths as he holds this slow-burning song together through sheer emotional commitment. It's another 'goodbye' song, but one that serves also as a thankyou letter for every good time the couple ever had and everything precious they once shared. It's the 'Maybe I'm Amazed' of the Simon and Garfunkel collection, Arty's narrator recalling how he was once stranded and trapped before his lover 'found the key' and allowed him to be himself. Even if they can't be together and his heart is breaking, he's well aware that he's in a much better and stronger place than when she first met him and much more able to stand on his own two feet. Arty begs his loved one to take his heart again and let him fly high in the sky, but at least he's on his feet and brought back to Earth gently, not the crawling mess he was before. Romance seems to him to work as a magic spell, giving him confidence and hope and it's potion lingers long after his lover has left and still leaves him feeling 'free'. Once again, though the writer was talking about this in terms of merely a split or divorce you can see why this song would have appealed to Arty in his situation, giving him a chance to address all sorts of feelings that he'd never been able to express before. The arrangement he and Roy Halee come up with for this album is excellent too. While the original is much more of your typical top 40 pop song, this one is much more low-key and teases out much more of the song's inner buried melancholy without entirely losing the hope and optimism in the song. Dean Parks is once again a star on guitar, giving Arty a stinging, angry base over which he and Larry Knechtel's keyboards can effortlessly glide, sounding much more like a song that not only says 'I love you' but realises that it's saying it much too late.
'In Cars' is a final fascinatingly surreal piece that packs a lot into just a few minutes. Though Jimmy Webb's original is a rather clichéd idea of American nostalgia, when teenagers found their first car and their first girlfriend more or less simultaneously, the re-arrangement here makes the past sound ghostly and threatening, a time of innocence and hope that could never possibly be sustained in adult life. Arty sobs through this track more than he sings it, picking out the lines in bursts of pure emotion as he tries to recover his age-old idea of the perfect romance and surrounds himself with an impossible ideal he knows in his heart can never be. To be fair some of the lyrics are quite poetic ('Silhouettes on the glass, memories in chrome'), but by and large it's the arrangement that makes this song, Arty and Roy adding a scary and surreal atmosphere to the track with its horror movie strings and the feeling that everything in the song is moving the 'wrong' way, almost backwards into an oblivious black hole instead of the beauty and happiness the narrator was once sure was his for the taking. The arrangement gets better still with the addition of Leah Kunkel making her best appearance on a Garfunkel song as a ghostly presence alternating between 'aaaah' and 'carrr' and Paul Simon, who sings just four lines on this recording but gets the mood completely spot-on. Speaking as Arty's present day self he sighs 'I remember you, everything was new' and later 'Talking in the dark, everything was true'. It's like a sadder reprise of 'Old Friends' after one of them didn't make it to sit on that park bench, life getting in the way despite their youthful promises to stay together always. Nothing more needs to be said: this was a relationship that seemed perfect and was meant to last forever and the narrator is heartbroken that it's there no longer, preferring instead to fool himself with memories of what once was. This moment in the song leads to a sudden increase in tension as the song all but folds in on itself in the Arty Garfunkel 'tidy' substitute for feedback and mayhem, full of glossy strings and saxophones going bezerk in place of smashed guitar strings and drumkits in swimming pools. It still works though, the trio of singers all giving their all in a song that's agonisingly close to losing the plot altogether until the sudden unexpected pay off with the first two lines from 'Girl From The North Country'. In many ways the mother of all future romantic songs, this age-old ballad inspired 'Scarborough Fair' and talks of a more innocent time though equally it could be that Arty is consoling himself that even this age-old ancient song is about heartbreak and loss, feeling less alone as he listens to music. Less about cars than about youth, this is an oddball song that only really works in this arrangement and makes for a power and memorable near-end to the album.
The record really ends on the anticlimax of another Jimmy Webb song 'That's All I've Got To Say', first heard as part of the film score to 'The Lost Unicorn'. Sensing that this might be his last chance to bid his lover goodbye (Arty doesn't know about 'Everything Waits To Be Noticed' just yet), this is a (far too) simple song about not being able to sum up everything a lover means to the narrator even in a book so he gives up writing a song and simply tells her 'I love you'. Arty buffs the song out to four minutes thanks to some extended Larry Knechtel piano playing (not that far removed from his opening to 'Bridge Over Troubled Water') and some lovely wordless Leah Kunkel vocals before a sweeping melodramatic orchestra takes over. Given that the song is so short, though, it's a shame we don't get an actual melody here to go with the words and after half an hour of the darker side of Art Garfunkel this full-on arrangement is too treacly for words. You can see why Arty chose this song, which sums up a million thoughts that must have been racing through his head with the simple words 'I love you', but in truth it's a corny idea and falls into the sugar-coated traps he's done well to avoid throughout the rest of the album. Scissors can't cut through honey, after all.
By and large, though, this is an excellent record that stays true to Arty's dark mood most of the way through and where the usual sources of light and happiness are clearly born from a dark place rather than singalong pop songs with orchestras as in the days of old. I've always considered Arty to be a much under-rated vocalist for all his success: most people agree that he has a gorgeous voice but people don't always agree that he does the right things with it. Arty always excels when the material matches his voice though and gives him depth and 'Scissors Cut' may not be his best album overall (that's the equally dark yet somehow prettier 'Everything Waits To be Noticed') it is arguably his best album as a singer. Many of these tracks demand more from him as a vocalist than ever before, with only a handful of them possessing really catchy and commercial melodies to do the work for him. Almost all the songs on this album come with emotional lyrics that would have been easy to over-sing, especially given how heartfelt many of these handpicked songs are, but Arty does them all proud - either placing his vocals on the edge of tears or acting as if nothing has happened and hiding the real beating dark heart of the song until closer inspection. Of course an album of cover songs can never be as revealing, intense or important as a record full of originals, but 'Scissors Cut' comes as close as any covers record can to bucking that trend: it's chosen with care, sung with love and isn't afraid to embrace the darkness. This is what Garfunkel was trying to do when he played around the concept of a darker record on 'Angel Clare' but here nearly everything works on an album that's impressively brave and frequently dark yet doesn't sacrifice that golden voice or the glossy production. Scissors cut, but the only really bad thing about this album is that it isn't a bit longer and that Arty never really recorded a sequel quite as bold or daring.
Other Art Garfunkel reviews from this site you might be interested in reading:
'Angel Clare' (1973) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/art-garfunkel-angel-clare-1973-album.html
‘Breakaway’ (1975) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-68-art-garfunkel-breakaway-1975.html
'Watermark' (1977) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.nl/2016/09/art-garfunkel-watermark-1977.html
'Fate For Breakfast' (1979) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/art-garfunkel-fate-for-breakfast-1979.html
'The Animals' Christmas' (1986) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2013/12/art-garfunkel-animals-christmas-1986.html
'Lefty' (1988) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/11/art-garfunkel-lefty-1988.html
‘Everything Waits To Be Noticed’ (2003) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/art-garfunkel-with-maia-sharp-and-buddy.html