Art Garfunkel sings with a refinement and purity that illuminate even the dullest of musical subjects. His luxurious, high-pitched harmonies sweep across songs like ribbons of polished steel, while his solo voice has a limpid quality.

What lies behind this transparent voice? Not much.

Garfunkel is an excruciatingly lovely singer who seems to lack any degree of musical substance or sense of direction. When he allows himself to be guided (as in his work with Paul Simon), he is capable of effective vocal inventions. When he is left to his devices, however, his solo works have been listless and subject to the whims of insensitive, commercial-minded producers.

Such is the case with "Fate For Breakfast" (Col. JC35780), a dismal collection of halfhearted songs that are alternately pretty and cute, but without any redeeming musical value.

The record touches on several styles from light soul ("And I Know"), to Simonesque folk ("Finally Found A Reason"). There is little continuity and the songs appear to have been choosen merely as vehicles for Garfunkel's voice.

Without any musical thought or purpose that voice bounces around like a balsa wood pinball, hitting its target but not solidly enough to score any points.

Much of the blame should go to producer Louie Shelton. He has assembed a motley band of songwriters and session musicians who bring a certain amount of competence to "Fate" but not much else. The compositions are dreary examples of hack work that attempt to gloss over their impoverished inspiration with a wealth of harmonic and melodic cliches. These songs have been handed over to a group of studio chart readers who play scores with a mechanical perfection that leaves the record sounding like a product hot off the hit-making assembly line.

This reliance on pedestrian collaborator is particularly damaging to a singer like Garfunkel, because it the bulk of the musical input on him and producer Shelton, neither of whom has any clear ideas of their own.

Added to this dubious musical mix are arrangements whose blandness reduces the record to the level of Pop Muzak. The drums, bass and electric piano have the now-predictable spunky funkiness and Del Newman's sweeping, soulful string settings are like Mantovani with gold chains and stacked heels.

The recorded sound is no better. It is lush, but not too lush, funky, but not too funky, emotional, but not too emotional. After listening for awhile, one gets the urge to kick the turntable so that the record will make some kind of definite noise.

Above this musical mush is Garfunkel's glorious voice. His range tends toward the upper registers, but his singing has a soothing, malleable quality that allows him to adapt to various styles with remarkable ease. "Miss You Nights" is a melodic ballad which he endows with a quiet grace, while "Oh How Happy" is a jaunty, upbeat number with his voice skipping over the beats like a smooth stone over water. His blue-eyed soul on "In A Little While (I'll Be On My Way") displays another side of his skills.

Despite the vocal powers which are at his command, there is a nagging feeling on "Fate For Breakfast" that Garfunkel is an artist stuck in a creative void. Like a musical dilettante he moves from one style to the next, refusing to commit himself and he takes neither the time nor the effort to produce a coherent musical structure. CAPTION: Picture, Art Garfunkel