Monday, 13 July 2015
Art Garfunkel "Fate For Breakfast" (1979)
In A Little While (I'll Be On My Way)/Since I Don't Have You/And I Know/Sail On A Rainbow//Bright Eyes/Finally Found A Reason/Beyond The Tears/Oh How Happy/When Someone Doesn't Want You/Take Me Away
You have to love an album that gives the biggest font in the credits to the caterers: Harvey's Chelsea Lunch who provided the luxurious feast depicted on the front and more especially the back cover of Art's fourth album. You have to love, also, an album that depicts Art not in some souped up paradise of an elegant millionaire's living room with him dolled up to the nines, but simply presents the artist in his kitchen, dressed only in a dressing gown. Only, nobody does seem to love this album, which is generally remembered today only as 'the album that has 'Bright Eyes' on it' (and even then Art's last international hit was a notorious flop in America). To some extent I can see why: this is more of a snack than a full meal compared to the two relative heavyweights on either side of it (the Jimmy Webb-filled 'Watermark' and the rather guilty confessional covers album 'Scissors Cut') and I can't remember the last time I saw more than three of these songs on any of the many Art Garfunkel compilations out there to buy. However just because something is 'heavy' doesn't automatically give it more worth than something lightweight and I put it to you, dear reader, that 'Fate For Breakfast' is perhaps Art's greatest 'pop' album, with some truly lovely and enjoyable performances, even if it isn't necessarily Art's greatest album of all. It's not so much Fate For Breakfast (or 'Doubt For Dessert' as the back cover has it) so much as a 'Light Lunch' - but there's nothing to say that light lunches can't be enjoyable and they're less likely to give you musical indigestion than full-blown major meals.
Ten years on from 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' and Art's music seemed to most fans to have formed into something of a pattern, with Art a cover singer par excellence of glossy orchestral ballads, most of them songs that are unhappy of mood and slow of tempo. Everyone knows this formula - it's what made Art one of the best selling cover singers of his day - and yet strange to say that it's a formula that only actually arrived with this album. Debut 'Angel Clare' is an odd and often daring record, as likely to shock you or confuse you as it is to make you cry. Sequel 'Breakaway', while full of well crafted pop songs, still throws no end of surprises into the mix (particularly the sub-rap song 'Waters Of March'). 'Watermark' had done much of the work at turning Art into a crooning ballad singer, but this too was an experiment, using an entire album of Jimmy Webb songs that actually came a shade darker than anything that will appear on 'Breakfast'. At the time of release 'Fate For Breakfast' actually came as something of a relief - a pop album made with feeling but which didn't try to present Art in any light other than a 'pop singer'. A decade on from 'Bridge' and Art has finally found a formula that seemed to work for him: forgotten as this album may be nowadays it sold very well in Britain at least, peaking at #2 in the charts (behind The Bee Gees and then Barbara Streisand - actually quite a good representation of the styles on this album!) and going on to become the 31st best-selling album of the year.
'Fate For Breakfast' may have been forgotten partly because it doesn't reflect what we've come to think of since as reflecting the charts in 1979 - the sort of thing that appears on all of those 'I love 1979 even though I was only five at the time' programmes Channel Four love so much. Punk was on its last legs but was still very much around, whilst crossing over with the next big thing of new wave. The two styles didn't have a lot in common musically but they did share a certain excitement, panache and attitude - and 'Fate For Breakfast' doesn't have any of that. It is in fact one of the sleepiest and slowest in my collection and I say that as a Pink Floyd fan. However, far from being 'leftovers' from a bygone era 'Fate For Breakfast' actually outsold most of the best-known punk and new wave records of the time: The Clash's 'London Calling' peaked at #9, The Stiff Little Fingers' debut 'Inflammable Material' peaked at #14 and The Talking Heads' 'Fear Of Music' peaked at #33 all in this same year, for instance. 'Breakfast' also reflects what was selling most at the time as well, mainly to worried parents and elder brothers who didn't understand whey their off-spring and siblings were running around wearing safety pins and Mohicans: as well as The Bee Gees and Barbara Streisand the best-sellers in the UK that year were ELO, Leo Sayer and Fleetwood Mac. Art's record sounds a very little bit like all these records thrown together in one big mixing bowl: nothing too daring, nothing too upsetting, with a default mode of 'safe'. Garfunkel had just a decade earlier been one half of one of the most envelope-pushing acts on the planet, with an ability to take fans on an emotional journey and understand their souls reduced to being a rather good singer on a bunch of ready-cut tearjerking songs. Like many a Garfunkel solo record, the singer can only be as good as his material and the result is like hearing a really good actor reduced to playing a cardboard cut out part on some soap opera. Many of Art's solo records have not worn well, precisely because music never went back to this default setting of 'playing it safe' again past 1980 and in many ways it's the last time Art can get away with being a classy interpreter rather than a pioneer (he'll never sell quite as many records again).
However, where Art succeeds over many of his rivals is that he always sounds emotionally connected to the material and most of the time the material is better than average. Despite fitting everyone's idea of an 'Art Garfunkel solo album' better than any other 'Fate For Breakfast' manages to keep up the singer's reputation for choosing good material despite the fact thatout of the entire album only Stephen Bishop had ever been tapped into before (this is a rare Garfunkel album indeed that doesn't feature something by Jimmy Webb!) Instead Art's found some great new songwriters and clearly has a psychological connection with many of them - especially David Batteau who becomes the de facto main writer of this album. Originally one half of a double act with his brother Robin, Batteau had released a couple of albums under his own name in the 1970s though he sold more copies when his songs were copied by other people (El Chicano's 1973 hit 'Tell Her She's Lovely' remains his best known song). For me, though, he's Art's stand-out writer of choice in the period after breaking ties with Paul Simon and before hooking up with songwriting partners Maia Sharp and Buddy Mondlock in 2002. Art understands these songs of quiet longing and putting a brave face on bad breaks and is born to interpret songs like 'Finally Found A Reason To Live' (one of the best Art solo songs nobody knows) plus the poppier 'And I Know'. Other successful new finds include 'Beyond The Tears' by Bob Grundy and Jeffrey Connor and Jeffrey Stanton's 'When Someone Doesn't Want You'. Garfunkel gets the space to sing with power the way he does best on these songs, his vocal dripping with the melancholy he knows how to turn on so well so that it never sounds forced and on songs that sound made for his half-whisper, half-soaring vocal. The oft-covered 'Miss You Nights' by David Townshend (not Pete Townshend - you wouldn't believe the amount of people who've mis-read that credit over the years!) is also a lucky break, easily beating Cliff Richard's embarrassment whilst barely trying. The rest of the album is admittedly rather weak, but this is still a pretty high quota and a higher quite than many of the Garfunkel albums to come, sadly.
Then of course there's 'Bright Eyes'. One of Mike Batt's best songs, back in the days just before he started clothing his pop sensibilities on a womble suit, the song is clearly the most powerful and profound Art has covered in a very long time (since 'Mary Was An Only Child' perhaps). The song was written for the excellent-if-grim cartoon of the near-perfect novel 'Watership Down' where an entire species of rabbit get a back story, their own mythology, their own dialect, a motivation and a series of characters more believable than almost any series featuring humans (to this day many of my friends know me as 'Fiver', the rabbit with visions, though even my dreams aren't quite as scary). Where 'Watership Down' succeeds best is that rather than use animals normally depicted as being cuddly as an excuse to talk down to audiences, the book and film use them as an excuse to talk up in symbolism usually lost on human drama: it's an often tribal world of dog-eat-dog (well, dog-eat-rabbit, and wolf-eat-rabbit, and human-eat-rabbit and sometimes rabbit-eat-rabbit) despite the fact that most characters are living for the right reasons and are corrupted only by the desperation of survival (all of Richard Adams' books play on this theme, but it's subtler in 'Watership Down' than 'Plague Dogs' or the bear in 'Shardik').
While half the people hired to do the voices for the film of 'Watership Down' clearly have no idea what's going on and treat the whole thing like a Disney cartoon, the movie is actually a relief for not soft-soaping the emotional experience the way it could have done. 'Bright Eyes' sits right at the heart of the film, at the point where the leader of the rabbits appears to have died in a futile, mistaken raid on a farm caused by the very human character traits of impatience and misunderstandings. It needs to be a powerful statement because without their diplomatic and organised leader, the entire warren is doomed and there is no story. Inserting a song at this point seem highly dangerous - you'll know what I mean if you've ever sat through as many Disney films like I have going 'Dear God no - why are you singing?!' (the 'Land Before Time' series is the worst: great films, but the most ghastly songs around not to feature The Spice Girls). Going to Mike Batt, best known at the time as a writer of family film scores, seems dangerous bordering on suicidal. And yet it works: for many people 'Bright Eyes' is the point where film-goers stop going 'but...but...but...it's a cartoon, why are you making me cry? Entertain me!' and emotionally invest in the characters. Perhaps because it's a film about rabbits, not immediately about humans, it also allows the film to tackle the one last great no-no in popular music: the theme of death (and not even a glorified, motorbike-riding he-died-young-and-a-hero death, but the inevitably of death). Even more clever than that, though, 'Bright Eyes' is really a song about life and the shock of finding out that no one is immune - no matter how alive they are in life sooner or later everybody passes to the great warren in the sky with the Black Rabbit of Inle. Asking Art to do this song was another dangerous move - even in 1978 (the single was out a year before the film) Art was being re-branded as a lightweight pop singer and his high angelic voice could so easily have turned a song like this into schmaltz. Instead Art gets the performance just right: this is a singer in shock, in grief, still not entirely sure what's happened because surely life can't end that suddenly - can it? It remains one of Art's greatest creations, although it's interestingly that while this song shot to number one in Britain where the film did well but bombed round the rest of the world where the film only did respectably at best ('Watership Down' is a very English book you see, set in very English countryside and with a very Victoriana range of cruelty hiding behind gentileness - so much so it's a surprise that the film-makers didn't ask The Kinks first; the song is best known to modern music fans thanks to Boyzone's Stephen Gately 's cover of the song, used in place of Art's in the animated TV series. Eerily he died not all that long after both recording this song about death and an appearance with Boyzone on 'Celebrity Ghosthunting with Most Haunted' where a spirit said someone in the room would be joining them soon...don't have nightmares!)
Art clearly had 'Bright Eyes' in mind when picking the rest of the album's songs because whilst none of the rest of the record deals with death (that will come on the goodbye-to-girlfriend Lauren on 1983's 'Scissors Cut', the much delayed sequel to this record) it is a largely sad record based around the theme of life's cruel blows and being helpless at overcoming them. Or at least on the album's first side: 'In A Little While' is a long distance relationship that's tearing a couple apart. 'Since I Don't Have You' is about how since the love of his life walked out on him the narrator has nothing anymore - his 'plans and schemes' and confidence have all gone too. 'All I Know' tries hard to be an upbeat song, determined to make the most out of life when it's going well - but it's clearly written when the narrator is at a low ebb, reminding him that things could change tomorrow only because he's having a rotten time in the present. Finally, 'Miss You Nights' is about loneliness and being blown off course, 'looking windward for my compass'. Al of this culminates in 'Bright Eyes' at the end of side one. However this cleverly programmed LP then goes in quite a different direction for side two. 'Finally Found A Reason To Live' throws all that negativity away with a new verve and zest for life. 'Beyond The Tears' tries to take a loved one out of a depressive slump by showing them all the good things in life. 'Oh How Happy' is a rather dippy song that's meant to recall 'Feelin' Groovy' but just sounds as if Art has been at the happy pills. Finally, 'Take Me Away' longs to escape to a happier time and manages to find one, even if it's all ultimately in the mind. I'd love to tell you that this was deliberate and that Art and co had done something really clever - that 'Fate For Breakfast' represented the happier, jollier tracks on side two when life seems to have a purpose and that 'Doubt For Dessert' refers to the dark places of side one - except it's not quite that clever. For a start the two sides ought to have been switched round to reflect this (instead we start with misery and end with happiness) and two tracks on the album should then have been switched round: 'Sail On A Rainbow' is one of the happiest, joyous songs Art ever sang and really belongs on side two's glow of optimism, not the sad side one. Equally Art has never sounded more miserable than when coming to terms with the fact that 'When Someone Doesn't Want You' it isn't very nice - a morbid track that belongs on side one. What a shame, then, that someone didn't notice and tweak the album to follow suit; had this record been promoted as 'an album of two halves' then 'Breakfast' might yet have come to be seen as a highly clever and articulate artistic statement.
Instead, 'Fate' ends up becoming just another Art Garfunkel LP, even at a time when there hadn't really been a formula like this for 'Fate' to end up replicating. On the plus side it's a very well made, well produced and above all well sung album, where even the weaker tracks have some worth thanks to Garfunkel's gorgeous performances (rarely did Art have such a marvellous control over his tone and sound and clearly worked hard on this LP even by his usual perfectionist standards). As we've seen, a good half of the songs chosen for this album are both good and suitable for Art's voice, which sadly isn't always the case (it's a real shame that Arty never again worked with Richard Batteau in particular after this). The backing musicians deserve a round of applause too, being polished without ever rendering these recordings twee: the names that stand out include Richard Tee, whose lovely ghostly electric piano is as excellent as ever (heard here just under a year before Paul Simon hires him for the film 'One Trick Pony' where he steals every scene he's in!), Larry Knechtel, whose lyrical piano lines are as great a match for Art's poise and control as on 'Bridge' and guitarist Hugh McCracken, who once livened up no end of pre-Wings Paul McCartney recordings. However perhaps the biggest effort comes from guitarist Louie Shelton (a one-time Monkee session musician) who not only provides the tasteful guitar lines across most of the album but also acts as the producer, the 'Roy Halee' character Art so badly needs to bounce his ideas off. The album artwork title is also clever and distinctive (although for the life of me I'm not quite sure why four separate versions of the album cover were made up and sold in various batches, seemingly at random: if you wanna own 'em all they include Art staring to his left, straight at camera, one shot between the two with Art's head in the middle of turning and easily the best: Art licking his fingers after polishing off his breakfast!)
However, the elephant in the room (the rabbit in the record?) is that while what Art gives us is generally extremely good and even at its worst remains tolerable, there's nothing really there to test Arty across this record. In the wake of 'Bright Eyes' hopes were high that Garfunkel had finally found a series of songs that were as deep and as emotional as his voice can be - with the possible exception of ''Finally Found A Reason' no other songs comes close to the same sort of emotional investment. It's a shame that in the wake of 'Bright Eyes' Arty didn't spend longer nosing through the Mike Batt songbook as the two were clearly working on the same wavelength (Arty could have had a great go at Batt's 'Soldier's Song', as recorded by The Hollies in 1980 or 'Lilac Wine', the 1978 hit for Elkie Brooks) - even if Batt did always have a tendency to take full control of his sessions and producing every recording made of his songs (not that this was a problem on 'Bright Eyes').There's none of the spooky strangeness that made 'Angel Clare' such an intriguing record - even if ultimately I play that album less than this one because of all the experiments that really don't work at all. There's none of the dodgy attempts to go modern, which while they drove me to distraction on 'Breakaway' at least showed Art was trying. Even 'Watermark' managed a certain cohesive darkness that this album fumbled, mainly thanks to Jimmy Webb's domination of the credits. By contrast 'Fate For Breakfast' makes less mistakes, but only because it plays it so safe and uses so many talented professionals that there's no risks involved anyway (bar 'Bright Eyes'). I'm still not quite sure by the way whether this is a good thing or not: I do listen to 'Breakfast' more than most of Arty's records (if not as much as towering achievement 'Everything Waits To Be Noticed') but it tends to be when I need safer, softer, more background listening without the disruption of a 'Waters Of March' or 'Woyayaya'. It really comes down to personal choice in the end - would you rather have an album that challenged you and deeply resonated with you and yet which left you paying for half an album of failed experiments you never ever wanted to play again or a pleasant listening experience that was enjoyable but not life-changing? Or, in the terms of the album's own imagery, would you rather have a well-made starter that left you feeling a little bit hungry or a four-course banquet where all the courses rocked you to your foundations and changed your perceptions about food - but only because two of them gave you food poisoning and indigestion?
'In A Little While (I'll Be On My Way)' is an odd place to start. The track comes over like a disco-funk lounge album with a very late-70s Richard Tee part and a funky strutting rhythm track kick-started by a series of twinkling flues. It's nothing like anything Art had ever done before and his vocal too is oddly pitched and high even by Arty's standards. In short, he's trying to sound like Leo Sayer, but he's not that kind of a singer: he's a clean, precise singer and is far better than the false vibrato he adds on his voice here. All that said, there are some nice things going on underneath the dodgy performance. The melody is pretty, the lyrics are't bad and Tee's playing on its own would be a fine half-hidden twinkling light drawing Art's narrator ever onward back home. It's all undone by the horrid sound textures of this recording though: the oh so disco string part and the false cheery smiles on everyone's faces on what is, at the heart of it, still a sad song. The narrator may be looking forward to coming home, but he's clearly much further away than the 'little while' away he pretends to be - he's still trapped half a continent aside from the one he loves and isn't even on the plane yet. One of the album's weakest songs, although the problem is very much with the recording and arrangement rather than the song itself.
'Since I Don't Have You' is a clear attempt to try to rekindle the surprise success of Inkspots cover 'I Only Have Eyes For You'. Once again Arty has taken what was originally quite a happy, upbeat, bouncy song and turned it into a slow aching ballad which once again is arguably more in keeping with the mood of the lyrics anyway. The Skyliners' 1950s hit with this song would surely have been known to both Simon and Garfunkel, doo-wop fans personified in this era and the song inspires one of Garfunkel's better vocals, full of aching longing and desire. A very pretty little song, 'You' may sound light and fluffy but it's clear Art's narrator is just putting a brave face on things. He's not just lost his girl, he's lost everything: all his ambitions have gone, all his plans for the future have been uprooted, he doesn't think he'll ever find love ever again and there's no point to any of his experiences anymore because there' no one to experience them with. I would have liked to have heard a bit more of this emotion actually - handing the solo to Michael Brecker's very clever but rather out of place joyfully dancing saxophone is almost as 'false' a reading of the reality of this song as the upbeat finger-snapping of the original. However there's just enough pathos and tension in this song to get by, Arty finally dropping his pretence in the final verse and singing a bunch of staccato accusatory 'You-hoo! You-hoo! You-hoooooo!'s that sound like they're coming out between bitter sobbing tears. The song managed to become a minor UK hit - Art's last - probably more in the wake of 'Bright Eyes' than on its own merits, but it's a welcome highlight of many a Garfunkel compilation and this album in particular, a highly clever re-working of a forgotten gem from his past.
'And I Know' is a rather odd song - it starts with a 'nah nah nyah nyah nah!' laugh from the backing singers before turning into what's quite a deep and thoughtful ditty. This song reads better than it sounds, with Art telling us how things seem different at different parts of the day - how love can be 'gentle' in the night-time and a source of sadness for most of the day. A second verse then speaks of how the teenage Art thought love would turn out to be - and how love turned out to be more complex than he ever thought. A 'lover's song; spurred him on in the night-time, despite the rejections turning to 'broken wings' in the day-time, leaving Art to sing one of the best lines on the album, reflecting on all the dashed dreams of his younger days: 'You want to know, where do all the songs go in your lifetime?' A third verse has Art taking a piece of a falling star he finds in his dreams and vowing to 'keep it in a jar till morning', determined that for once a real-life encounter will live up to the romance of his dreams. This is lyrically a highly clever song, but the bland poppy melody is too one-sided and one-note for both the worth of the lyric and the singer singing it. The arrangement is rather odd too, with a double-tracked Arty not being given the chance to soar and he sounds as uninterested as Arty would ever be (although he still sings one heck of a lot better than the backing vocalists!) Lyrically, though, this is one of the strongest songs on the album.
'Sail On A Rainbow' at least sounds like an Art Garfunkel song and Arty is born to sing this sort of sleepy, joyful song. The narrator of this song has just met the most marvellous girl and he can't stop walking on air and sailing on rainbows even when she's not there. Arty drift-sleeps through life, his mind on auto-pilot as his head remains in the clouds enjoying 'an endless dream no one else will ever understand'. Arty had no hand in the actual song, but the fact that it's by his old pal Stephen Bishop (and far less worldly-wise than his usual material) suggests that it may well be a personal choice. Garfunkel might well have had girlfriend Laurie Bird in mind as the long-time bachelor opens up to a new love in his life at last and there's certainly something wonderfully warm and sincere in Art's vocal even by his standards. At the time this song was a wonderful glimpse at how happily, madly in love Art was before the awful events of the end of the year (when Laurie killed herself by overdosing on valium in the apartment the pair shared on June 15th 1979, three months after the release of the record) - now it just sounds almost unbearably poignant as Arty sings about how he can't wait 'until I hold you in my arms again'.
'Miss You Nights' is the most famous song on the album apart from 'Bright Eyes'. David Townshend is said to have written the song whilst on holiday away from his girlfriend and realising how empty all his experience were without her. Townshend had intended to record the album himself after signing to record label Island, but the label were undergoing financial struggles and decided to temporarily shelve all their albums except the ones by established artists. Desperate, Townshend sent his demo tape to Bruce Welch hoping The Shadows might cover it; Welch loved it so much he passed it on to Cliff Richard who scored a ginormous hit with it in 1975. For me, though, Cliff was always the 'wrong' casting for the song: Cliff has always struggled at conveying emotion in song despite having a good ear for material and almost reads the lyrics of this track on his hit version. Arty, naturally, understands this song - he gets the multiple layers of loneliness and longing in this track and turns in a stunning performance that goes through several storms and calms across the four minutes, with Larry Knechtel right there with him on piano as per 'Bridge Over Troubled Water', stalling the outburst for much of the song before suddenly swooping. Arty also makes good use of multi-tracking here, sounding like a choir of Garfunkel's really singing different lines rather than simply embellishing the lead here. Art was only the third artist to record this song (marie Osmond beat him to the shops by a few weeks) and the track has been covered by dozens of singers since - but no other arrangement manages to capture this song's subtleties (del Newman's string arrangement is a masterpiece in subtlety) and no other singer has covered it as well. Like many a narrator across this album, it's not just the absent girl that's causing him pain - he really feels it when she's not there because she's both his anchor and compass, keeping him safe and gently pushing in the right direction. Garfunkel sings of his sadness at being forced to 'cut the thread' (we never do find out what's happened - the song is subtle enough for her to have left, to have died or even the truth of the story behind it's composition - of a holiday taken alone) - though it's not fully explored here the idea of a 'thread' connecting people together no matter how far apart they are will go on to be a key Garfunkel theme and inspire one of Art's better songs in 2002 (given this song's close proximity to Laurie's loss he may again have equated the lyric with her). One of the album's real success stories.
'Bright Eyes' opens side two with the album's big hit and it sounds rather odder here in the middle of the album than it did as a single. Mike Batt had very different ideas to displaying emotion to Louie Shelton and throws everything at this song: over-lush strings, a slow tempo and everything up loud in the mix so that all subtleties are out the window. However this once it works: the idea behind 'Bright Eyes' - how can someone so alive go on to be dead? - is strong enough to cope with anything (though slightly less elaborate strings might have been better yet). Art's vocal is as ever superb - his wide-eyed innocence makes him the perfect vocalist for this song and the burning sense of injustice that something so bad can happen in this world - that life is now playing to a different set of rules. It's an important song this one and was always going to be a hit even without 'Watership Down' to help make it one, taking the most 'alive' element of any human being (their eyes - 'the windows to the soul') and showing what happens when those eyes close forever. The narrator is too overwhelmed to take it all in at once - the loss seems like a 'dream', he finds himself 'in a fog along the horizon' and thinks he sees a 'strange glow in the sky' which might be the sight of his loved one's soul travelling up to the sky or might just be how differently he now views a world that can do this to him. The key line of the song though, as Batt admitted, is that 'nobody seems to know where you go'. Actually this is the line that worked least well in the context of 'Watership Down' (where the rabbits all have a much more fully developed and understood idea of what happens after death than mere humans do) - but it's the one that works best solely in the context of the song. The chorus, though, is what fans remember most: the narrator's strangled cry that eyes that once 'burned with fire' now show nothing, just a blankness - 'how can you close and fail?' the narrator demands, as if he's been personally betrayed. So much more than just another hit single and so much more than just a song about rabbits, 'Bright Eyes' is one of the most longest lasting songs in Arty's canon for several very good reasons. In the film, rabbit Hazel quickly recovers and is soon back to normal - however the best aspect of 'Bright Eyes' is that's you know that the figure in the song is never going to wake up ever again: the narrator knows it too, but can't stop asking in his desperation because death is too final for him. It's a powerful erudite song that says much about the un-sayable and ponders a lot on the un-knowable and while it doesn't offer any concrete answers it asks the questions we all want to ask very well indeed.
'Finally Found A Reason To Live' is another real highlight, a classy pop song about how the narrator has finally understood the real purpose of life and is determined to make the most of it. Arty's narrator 'finally feels at ease' with life, realising that life is a series of 'turns on a wheel' and that at last after years of sorrow things are finally working out for him. Oddly, though, the song chooses the revelation that 'now I see your face my world is a better place' to uncomfortably twist to the sadder minor key. The narrator may be in love, but it's as if even in his happiest moments he knows that the 'turning of the wheel' could happen again and leave him lonely, so he's determined to make the most of what he has now. The delightful melody quietly dances throughout the whole of this track, but it's all relatively muted for all its joy, Arty's vocal barely getting above a whisper. The atmosphere is intimate, a realisation about life and a note to self rather than a reason to shout 'hallelujah!' to the neighbours with the most muted singalong 'la la la' chorus you'll ever hear. Stephen Bishop sings along on backing vocals, even though this song isn't one of his but another Beatteau tune, with a bit of help from three other writers. Usually the songs with the longest writing credits tend to be the worst (it's hard to keep the same full-strength emotion when songs are being written by committee) but this song somehow manages it. This song could have been a winning Eurovision entry - and I mean that in the nicest, kindest, brotherhood sense of the word.
'Beyond The Tears' takes us back to weeping and sounds oddly out of place amongst the happier songs across this side. Bob Grundy's song tries to repeat 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' by reaching out a hand to a troubled lover (shades of Laurie again perhaps? She had attempted suicide as cries for help before) only to have it spurned. The narrator knows better though: she's afraid of rejection but he knows he would never ever let her down; she can't see how 'the pieces fit' but he can; she feels all hope has gone - but he knows how strong she really is. No wonder, then, that the suddenly noisy chorus promises to 'see behind the tears' as Art hits perhaps the loudest, highest note on the record on a rousing song about overcoming adversity. However, for all that sense of unity and hope, there's something slightly 'off' about this song. The song gets awfully wobbly by the end, as if crushed under all that extra responsibility and there's a slight sense in Art's vocal that he's taken on more than he can chew when his first verse doesn't cheer her up as much as he hoped. It may just be my slightly woolly vinyl copy of the album, but there's a sense that this song is being performed down a tunnel, at a distance which is actually very apt - we're hearing this song as 'she' hears it, not how 'he' sings it and his promises sound distant and less emotionally uplifting than they should. This should have been another Eurovision entry by the way, especially with the key change midway through, although this time around it's one of those okay-ish songs that does well in the final result but nobody secretly likes that much.
'Oh How Happy' is one of the album's lesser moments, a finger-snapping song about, erm, oh how happy the narrator is. Art sounds more like Michael Jackson on this one on a song that's a pale cousin of 'I Shall Sing' from 'Angel Clare' - and I didn't like that track very much. The elaborate production, which has remained on just the right side of 'real' for much of the album, crashes right through to 'sappy' here, with more gloss than a series of Dulux paint tins. Arty tries hard with the vocal, but he's just not the right singer for this sort of dementedly cheerful song and there's even less for him to get his teeth into than 'Feelin' Groovy'. The lyrics don't even rhyme: check out 'I have kissed your lips a thousand times and more times than I can count, I have called you mine, you have stood by me in my darkest hour'. What? This is a novel, possibly a Mills and Boons romance, not a song! Nothing rhymes with 'happy' either, which is a bit of a problem for a song that repeats the word this many times...This song too sounds like a Eurovision entry, but one of the bad ones from the early years when nobody could understand the words so they made them dementedly and painfully simple - and entered into the competition only after being rejected by Sesame Street for being 'too childish'. The one song on the album that's truly awful.
'When Someone Doesn't Want You' is much better, another sad slow song with Arty born for the twists and turns in the melody and the wound-licking lyrics. This time around it's the narrator whose the passive one - he's not trying to cheer his girl up, to get her to open her cold dead eyes or responding to what life throws at him, he just sadly wanders away after an argument and comes to the conclusion 'that this is goodbyeeeeee'. She doesn't appear to even notice him and he doesn't even try to fight the fact: 'the picture's painted' he sighs, 'there wasn't room for me inside' and he's left on the outside looking in, as it were. However unlike some of the more over-dramatic characters across this album, Arty stays calm - he'll pick up his old life where he left off, maybe go live on a river boat and consoles himself that 'the tears will disappear even though the memory lingers on'. He all sounds rather calm and rational, actually, and the melody and performance rather reflect this too, slightly sadly walking along with its tail between its legs rather than being overwhelmingly saddened by events. It's not the best of deepest song Arty ever performed by any means, but it's well suited to his voice which comes dripping with far more layers of hurt and anguish than are there in the lyrics and the over-polished works wonders here, acting as a slightly sterile, uncaring and distant backdrop for a narrator who feels very out of place suddenly. One of the album's better tracks.
Finally comes 'Take Me Away', one last pretty singalong with one of the strongest melodies on the album, although it could have done with a lot more lyrics. The narrator longs to escape and hears the 'winds blowing' to him and telling him to move on again. There are all sorts of unexpected changes in the performance which quickly turns this song into an epic though, the best of them being a lovely instrumental interlude where a string part pits the brakes on as a guitar worries away at a riff and a harpsichord stands strong, blocking the path. In truth, Arty barely features on this recording as the instrumental break is terribly long and even his 'dah dah dah' singalongs are drowned out, way at the bottom of the mix. However the final verse is very clever - instead of soaring straight away as we expect, Art drops things to an intimate whisper before finally giving us the 'release' we've been longing for. All in all, quite a memorable end to a largely forgettable LP, although it has to be said that the song would have been better yet had there actually been a 'proper' set of lyrics to go with the tune.
This is, after all, a lyricist's album. While the melodies are scruffy and the performances often over-dressed it's the lyrics that provide 'Fate For Breakfast' with much of its thoughtfulness and sophistication. An often moving, frequently dark album about life's obstacles and how to overcome them, it's a record that would have really benefitted from having a lyric sheet with the original album (or at least my copy of the album doesn't come with one!) However the lack of truly memorable tunes and the slightly claustrophobic, cloying arrangements mean that this record doesn't always have the impact that it should: what's really one of Arty's darker, more sensitive albums comes across as just another pop album and the failed attempts to turn Arty into just another pop singer with Leo Sayer or Michael Jackson overtones embarrasses both him and us. Even if 'Fate For Breakfast' doesn't have quite the lasting impact of it's harder edged, more daring cousins in the Art Garfunkel canon, however, there is still much to enjoy: 'Bright Eyes' is one of Art's better singles full of pathos and innocence turning to despair that few vocalists could have handled as well; 'Miss You Nights' is a superior ballad at least handled by a singer who knows how to use it properly; 'Finally Found A Reason' is a charming pop song with a touch of mystery and 'When Someone Doesn't Want You' tugs at the heart strings for all the right reasons. Though often dismissed as a 'filler' record - and clearly not as substantial an album as 'Angel Clare' 'Scissers Cut' or 'Everything Waits To Be Noticed' - 'Breakfast' is at the very least more than that, if no long lost classic. 'Fate For Breakfast' may make a bit of a meal of things at times, but if this is the worst things get for Arty then that's still mighty high - on reflection this is a three-star banquet and on balance I'd still leave a heavy tip.