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4ZZZ 10-02-2008 06:51 AM

John Cale - A few albums
How many artistes can still make relevant music into their old age? But a handful in my opinion. One of these is the great John Cale. I had the pleasure of seeing Cale perform at a venue that would hold 1,600 but there was lucky to be 250 people. Brisbane Australia on a rainy night is a strange place indeed. The rain just seems to scare people away, or do I overate his importance to the town that produced Punk pioneers The Saints?:o:
Be that as it may he was on his Circus Live tour and it was a wonderful show for a small audience.

I thought that as I am the owner of a few of Cales albums that I just might present some reviews. Defying convention I also thought that I would work backwards.

From 2005 we have Black Acetate

The first track Outta the Bag is a funky number sung with a falsetto that the brothers Gibb would have been proud of. But not staying still we are then offered Foraride a mid paced rocker with Cale's fine vocal over some good crunching rhythm Guitar along with great bass and drums with lead guitar coming in late. Brotherman is Cale experimenting with an electronic spoken word track. Some may say that he has been in this spoken word direction before but in the context of his free form musical background it may be enjoyed by some but not others who care for a more Rock driven direction. 4 slower paced tracks follow. Satisfied has a lush feel and has Cale singing a love song. In A Flood is darker and brooding with a slight blues feel. Hush follows and also has a slow funk feel with Cales vocal backed by female chorus. Gravel Drive slows things down even further as we reach the middle of the album. A ballad of slow picked guitar and hushed organ. Perfect ups the tempo as we have a standard rocker with Cales vocals hitting a height with the Rhythm section showing their stuff. Sold Motel follows with a slower grunge style guitar and male backing vocals with Cale again singing beautifully. For me Women is a highlight. Cale for me has been at his best when he stretches himself and he is seemingly doing that in this song that mix's slow spoken word over electronica but slips into a straight rock chorus with crunching guitar and a further change into a scat style vocal. Not to be stuck in a rut the chorus gets almost choral to take the song out to the end.
Wasteland slows the pace but with simple piano and acoustic guitar behind Cales plaintive vocal and sharp Viola. Turn The Lights On is a straight out rocker and the final track Mailman(Lying Song) is a mid paced song with the acoustic guitar and various electronic sounds meandering away in the background as Cale again sings very well.

I am of the impression (though I am very far away from the musical universe that is the US and Europe so may well be wrong) that Black Acetate was seemingly ignored. Why? From the first to the last each track has a different feel and direction and covers his many and varied styles from his long years of making mostly quality music. Rockers through to slow ballads and even folk and blue's influences are here. Cales vocals are as good as ever. He has even embraced technology as is shown by the electronica background of some tracks. Lets be realistic, Cale is never going to make or be involved in anything as important as the first two VU releases but that should not stop anyone with some admiration of his career at least enjoying some parts of this not too bad album.

More later.

4ZZZ 10-03-2008 06:05 AM

Hobo Sapiens. 2003.

This is at times a very accessible album by the usual standards of Cales past. There is one album that is an exception to that and I will discuss that with a review later in the thread. Here that accessibility starts with Zen, the very first track. From Zen’s slow meandering atmospheric pop to the mid paced tales of travelling in Reading My Mind Cale gives the impression that he is out for a bit fun with this collection of tunes. On Reading My Mind the Italian found sounds add a bit of light heartedness to a fine piece of Pop. Things and Look Horizons continue down the same path with each being mid paced pop with lyrics that keep interest up. The lushness of the instrumentation and good production is standing out. We do take a slow and solemn turn with Magritte though. When I first heard this song I was convinced that it was a personal tale to tell but no, Cale said in an interview that he got his ideas for the lyric while sitting around the studio reading magazines. A more adventurous song that after additional plays gets better with time. With the sound of the tide racing along the beach at the start to the then sadly played strings and softly sung backing vocals this song also has a lot of background lushness that only becomes apparent with repeated listen. This has been where I feel that Cale has always been at his best, his ability to quietly add texture to a song. Archimedes has minimalist keyboard whirling under Cales strong vocal and is followed by Caravan. This is an exceptionally strong piece of atmospheric music and is as good as anything that Cale has ever written. With background drone, his sound, whirling away under a steady beat, along with keyboards, guitar and orchestration this leads to a beautifully lush and compelling listen. Bicycle is a tuneful little piece of disposable pop that has Cale and Brian Eno’s daughters Do Do Do Doing away over an 80’s style synth sound with looping thrown in just for good measure. Naturally the next song Twilight Zone ups the pace. Letter From Abroad is the most experimental track on what to this point had been a very accessible album. Should this be a worry? Not really. Cale subjecting us to this type of track, one completely out of sync with the rest of the album, makes him what he is. With Indian style sounds, electronica loops, his vocals at times processed and then with an acoustic guitar strumming away, this is great for those with a prog or experimental bent. Things X is another version of the third track but with his avant garde roots taking over and changing this song into something far less easy to listen to. Again this would appeal to those with a prog or experimental bent. Over Her Head finish’s the album and a fair degree of normalcy is returned with a slow atmospheric song. But is it? Nope. He reaches the last minute of this song and off he goes on a tangent rocking it up with all types of weird and wonderful sounds in the background.

Considering that I stated that this was as accessible as it gets when compared to some of his past solos efforts there is still a fair degree of the experimental in Cales approach, especially towards the end of the album. He is not, nor has he ever been afraid to mix things up. From solid rockers and ballads to the downright avant garde, Cale has really made himself a bit of an outsider. Sometime too odd for those who like it straight, other times too straight for those that like it odd. I rather like that.

4ZZZ 10-10-2008 02:38 AM

Cale has through the years been a noted producer and has also collaborated with other artistes. One such collaboration was with Brian Eno in 1990’s Wrong Way Up.

This was easily the most accessible recording that Cale had done in years and arguably in the future. Some could also make the claim being the same for Eno as well. Being accessible does not always a good album make but that is certainly not the case with Wrong Way Up. This is chocked full of catchy pop songs that are full of good hooks and easy to listen to vocals from both Cale and Eno. The production and musicianship add to a fine album of 10 tracks that is seamless in presentation. The opening track Lay My Love makes a nice start with a slow lazy piece of pop that leads in to a terrific second song One Word, a funky number with very good vocal harmonies. On initial listening it was hard to imagine that this was two of the more experimental artistes of recent time’s collaborating on what is a less than avant garde album. The Cale sung track In The Backroom has to my ears a Leonard Cohan feel to it. Empty Frame follows with Eno singing lead vocals over again good harmonies. One of the best songs that Cale ever sang is Cordoba. This is a wonderful soft ballad and worthy of recognition by anyone with a passing interest in the career of Cale. The slow background effects remind me of Trip Hop, a style that developed a couple of years later. Spinning Away is an Eno vocal with beautiful chunky reggae style guitar along with viola work from Cale. Again vocal harmonies finish the track and add to one of the best songs that either of these pair has been involved in. Footsteps has Cale singing in his deep voice over a song of Synth powered sounds and then follows the magnificent Been There Done That. Just under 3 minutes this is as good a piece of mainstream pop that there has ever been with a great vocal by Cale and the usual perfect vocal harmonies to fill it out. Crime In The Desert is up tempo with piano and organ whirling away with The River being an ideal piece to end. A gentle meandering song that, when it finishes, seems to softly fade into the distance.

Wrong Way Up is now 18 years old but is still a better album of constructed pop songs than anything that I can think of that has followed it. From the beginning to the end there is a feel that both Cale and Eno have had a chemistry that has allowed their 2 differing paths in the experimental/Avant Garde to collude and produce an almost perfect album. There are no weak tracks, there is no hint that any one song was thought of as filler, the vocal performances are sublime in that they suit the style of each song, as is the production and musicianship. I read once that when asked if they would work together again the answer was no as this took too much out of each other. I also am not too sure that I would want them to work together again. If it was not up to the standard of Wrong Way Up I would be very disappointed.

jackhammer 10-10-2008 04:51 PM

I only have 'Fear' by Cale and it's a great album. I may delve a little more into his back catalogue on the strength of this thread.

4ZZZ 10-10-2008 07:30 PM


Originally Posted by jackhammer (Post 529368)
I only have 'Fear' by Cale and it's a great album. I may delve a little more into his back catalogue on the strength of this thread.

Fear will be reviewed. I fear though ( fear is a mans best friend:o:) that I may be coming over as a gushing fan. FWIW Fear along with Slow Dazzle and Helen Of Troy are available as a compilation called The Island Years and is comparatively cheap in this part of the world.

4ZZZ 10-17-2008 01:58 AM

Songs For Drella. 1990

Songs For Drella is a collaboration between Cale and fellow Velvets member Lou Reed. Much has been written as to the relationship that Cale and Reed had and have had from the VU days. Whatever the truth they got together to record this tribute to Andy Warhol who had passed away in 1987. This is an album for the VU, Cale and Reed purist. There is a certain dynamism that suits each of these two reported egotists who, when they have worked together, have produced some rather interesting to wonderfully great music. Sadly they do not seemingly have the ability to work together too comfortably.

This is in it’s self a concept album about their thoughts, recollections and their own narratives as if Warhol, their early VU mentor. There is generally a certain minimalism in instrumental approach with Reed playing only the Guitar and Cale the keyboards and the occasional Viola. There are no drums and bass. The backing instrumentation plays its part in filling the sound out but with the lyrics, being generally of a narrative style, the key to the album.

Reed sang all of the tracks bar 5. The opener Small Town is sung by Reed is a sing/talk discussion of the trials and tribulations of being different in a small town. This lyrically sets the tone for the entire album. That Warhol was a different individual than most is evident from Small Town to the dreamy words of Hello It’s Me the final track. There are five tracks that Cale sings and they are Style It Takes, Trouble With Classicists, Faces & Names, A Dream and Changed Forever. Style It Takes and Trouble With Classicists are both Cale as Warhol narratives and actually stretches the guitar of Reed and Cale’s piano. A fine song indeed and would not be out of place on any of Cale’s albums. Faces And Names, the next track sung by Cale, is also Warhol the narrator/singer and it wanders softly along with nice guitar work by Reed and the keys warbling away as background. Images is a Reed sung song that has Cale’s drone viola bringing back strong memories of VU. Lyrically the most interesting song is I Believe, a song with an almost bar room piano played by Cale and Reeds distorted guitar coming in and out. The lyrics are pointed. This is a song about the attempted assassination of Warhol by Valerie Solanis. Reed sings

From inside her idiot madness spoke and bang
Andy fell onto the floor
And I believe life's serious enough for retribution
I believe being sick is no excuse and
I believe I would've pulled the switch on her myself

A Dream will bring back slight memories of The Gift from VU’s White Light/White Heat. This is a deadpan to whispering narrative from Cale with the Keys and Guitar freeform in the background. Forever Changed is another Cale sung song with Reeds Guitar playing a leading role. Finally we finish with Hello It’s Me. An at times poignant lyric by Reed with some regrets by him. Cale’s Viola is as tuneful as anything he has done.

This is a very good album and should appeal to those that are Cale, Reed and VU fans. It is lyrically very strong but then it should be considering the intimate knowledge both Cale and Reed had of the subject matter. The songs themselves are tuneful and the limited instrumentation suits the concept as it fills the sound where necessary and keeps away when not. This may not be a good start for the beginner looking to hear the works of either of these artistes or VU but none the less they have done worse work.

4ZZZ 10-23-2008 08:06 AM

Music For A New Society. 1982.

Taking Your Own Life In Your Hands indeed! Slow, melodic, haunting, lyrical.
"The children are all leaving school today
Mama said, don't worry, I'll be back one day
The blue men in uniform smiled and waved goodbye
She was hiding those tears in her eyes."

Thoughtless Kind. Keyboard introduction. A machine in perfect metronomic timing. Bleak! Found sounds:- crying, laughter, bagpipes. A swirling soundscape.
"When we grow tired of the friends we make
In case we mean to say something else
Say they were the best of times we ever had
The best of times were the thoughtless kind and does not stop"

Sanities. Cale voice! Mad talk. Intense lyric. Periodic beating drum, a church organ, hard to understand background talk! Demanding. But demanding what? A listen? Rejection?
"She was so afraid
Since her mother, white with time,
Told her
She was a failure."

If You Were Still Around. Cue church organ. Cales plaintive singing.
Morbid organ hanging. He sings.
"Shreds of dread
If you were still around
I'd turn you facing the wind
Bend your spine on my knee
Chew the back of your head
Chew the back of your head
'Til you opened your mouth
To this life"

I keep a Close Watch On This Heart Of Mine. Melancholy but...?
Those bagpipes. The drum beats. Fading to the distance.
"I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep a close watch on this heart of mine"

Broken Bird. Cales voice sad. Always that sadness. A slow song, a sad song.
"Like a broken winged, like a broken bird
She senses every damn thing that's near her
And nothing in the light of day could see how
Her happiness faded away
Her happiness faded away with the night"
but then uptempo and almost uplifting but in the end no.

Chinese Envoy. Acoustic Guitar. Viola. Cale sadly sings, more sadness
"She was a princess, much lower than people thought
A master of nothing a mistress of something she thought"

Changes Made. Out of place. Electric Guitar, almost funky, what is going on? Mood shift?
"Cause I'm a lofty man
I'm a hungry man
Gonna be, gonna be, gonna be, gonna be some changes made round here"

Damn Life. (In)sanity restored. Ode To Joy? Like hell! The irony.
"Damn life
Damn life
What's it worth?
Damn life"

Risé, Sam and Rimsky-Korsakov. Risé speaks Sam's words. Almost monotone. Rimsky-Korsakov in the distance.
"I knew a guitar player once, who called the radio friendly He felt a kinship, not with the music so much as with the radio's voice,"

In The Library Of Force. Cales voice, his voice he just talks and talks and that voice and that swirling synth and that freeform guitar and that voice. Always the insaneness of his voice!
"From the Last Day of Language
The Written Word
The Written Word
Written Word
Commands to the Sky to Starve the Sky
And the crawling skin of God"

10/10. 0/10.
5 stars. No stars.
Brilliant. Trash.
Sane or "Cale was clearly nuts" Ask James Young.

"John Cale is a ****ing elitist. He did not like the people he was playing for. He's Welsh, and they're all nasty bastards."
Nat Finkelstein

I play this record often.

Bulldog 10-23-2008 11:11 AM

Good, concise reviews man. I've only got a copy of Paris 1919 (well, had - long since lost it in a move) which I remember really enjoying. It's been a good few years since I last heard anything by him - probably should hunt down a few of his albums. Cheers for the pointers

Urban Hat€monger ? 10-23-2008 11:46 AM

I should be able to add something to this thread once you start the 70s stuff.

4ZZZ 10-30-2008 07:56 AM

Helen Of Troy. 1975.

Cale released 3 albums with Island records with this being the final. Though reaching some good highs it does have a few tracks that don't work and I am surprised that it is as highly regarded by Cale fans as it seems to be. An interesting band line up on this album to say the least. How about Phil Collins, Brian Eno and Chris Spedding for a start. I presume that all the Guitar solos are by Spedding as Cale, brilliant all round musician that he is, has never been a lead guitarist.
Helen Of Troy starts out with My Maria. One of Cales obscure lyrics. Does he love a catholic girl? Guitar along with female choir. The title track, Helen Of Troy, follows and is to me Cale at his near brilliant best with a guest vocal that is sadly off-putting. The effeminate voice that he uses for various verses has the glam rock of the day in mind but the song does not deserve such a throwaway vocal. The lyrics are of the *** hag variety and may seem a little old hat today. They may have had some impact in 1975 though VU 1968 would have been the time. There is some great singing by Cale and the Rhythm section is chunky and allows the horns, Guitar and synths to work well. China Sea follows and is a soft pop song that Cale is more than capable of producing. This may have been better passed on to another artist (1975 Donny Osmond?) as it is far too saccharine for my Cale tastes. Engine follows and is vintage Cale. A somber start with lovely soft vocals and slowly played piano and then hits the heights with the vocal going gruff and manic and the song changing direction into a mélange of noise. Save Us is an off kilter track with organ and thumping bass. Cable Hogue is a slow paced almost ballad like song of slow guitar being strummed and slow paced rhythm that is saved by Cales voice. I Keep A Close Watch is a wonderful song that was used to fantastic effect on the brilliantly manic Music For A New Society from 1982. This version has a more lush orchestral production and though I prefer the future version it is still a fine song that could easily have had good airplay if covered by famous crooners. Pablo Picasso follows. A Jonathan Richman track that Cale covers brilliantly. Great lead guitar and crunching rhythm over Cale sing speak vocals. Coral Moon is slower paced song that lacks the intensity of the last couple of tunes. Nice in a meandering way but feels like filler. Cales vocal is a bit too far back in the mix. Baby What You Want Me To Do is a Jimmy Reed cover and allows the guitar to crunch away on what is a standard blues number. Nice little toe tapper but Cale can do throwaway blues covers like this in his sleep. Sudden Death is also a slow number with a blues feel that has a good lyric that saves the song as in the end it just feels again like filler. Leaving It Up To You is the final track and is a great end to the record. A fantastic lyric with a growling gruff and manic Cale vocal with fine guitar playing. "I'd do it now, I'd do it now, right now, you fascist I know we could all feel safe like Sharon Tate." A Cale fan site that I read states "Island Records replaced the track Leaving It Up To You with Coral Moon on the Helen Of Troy album, because it mentioned Sharon Tate, wife of film director Roman Polanski, who was killed in 1969 by the Charles Manson gang. Things turned sour, and Cale and Island did go their separate ways. The CD version contains both tracks."

I am in the minority of Cale fans in that I consider this album a bit of a failure. Sure there are the odd tracks that stand out but my feeling is that the general haphazard approach that works for Cale most of the time just did not gel with this album. It feels as if it was put together with little thought to the general flow. Most of the time the lyrics are as good as ever but they can not always carry a song that feels rushed or uninteresting. Given Cales split with Island records and the (pointless) controversy over the Leaving It Up To You lyric he may have been disinterested in taking a few of these tunes as far as they could have gone.

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