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Old 07-25-2011, 08:49 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default John Cale - Paris 1919


John Cale - Paris 1919
1973
Key Tracks: 'Andulacia', 'A Childs Christmas In Wales', 'Paris 1919', 'Graham Green', 'Hanky Panky Nohow'

John Cale - known for his work with maverick underground artists such as La Monte Young, Terry Riley, The Stooges and of course, The Velvet Underground - released his fourth Lp Paris 1919 in 1973. His backing band are boogie rockers Little Feat who provide this album with much punch and zing. Producer Chris Thomas last worked with Procol Harem and provides many lush orchestral tones although Cale himself dismissed the LP as "alright, but I don't want to make Procol Harem albums all my life." Ignore the bugger. Cos Paris 1919 is bloody brilliant.

'Child's Christmas in Wales' is the perfect opening track, instantly invigorating with its jaunty piano riff and wailing guitar sauntering over the hill. It's first example of the subtle experimentalism that is scattered throughout Paris1919, a six second riff with an impossibly complex time signature (or is it a standard 4/4 beat playing tricks on my mind? Either way you've won Mr Cale.) And then there's the opening line - sung, as always, by a man that sound like he could do with a warm blanket and a cup of coco - "The mistletoe of candle green, to Halloween we go", a lyric and image that threaten to rip at the fabric of the space time continuum. The cut and paste style wordplay on this album means I haven't got a clue what he's going on about most of the time, but when he throws gorgeous pastoral images at you like "the cattle graze bold uprightly" it doesn't matter. 'Child's Christmas in Wales' is uplifting and boogie-tastic, yet the scarred, haunted 'Andalucia' is even better. A song that's longing for people and places that will never return. Over lovingly plucked acoustic guitar chords and a Velvets style to-and-fro riff Cale sings his tenderest of vocals, especially with the line, "your face doesn't alter, your words never falter". Then he stretches his voice to the limit with a cathartic "I loooove you". Best of all 'Andalucia' its wrapped up with those beatific, twanging, sliding pedal steel guitar sounds, the type that were later nicked by Belle And Sebastian and Camera Obscura, and the type that get me all moist in the eyes and mushy at the knees.

Elsewhere closing track 'Antarctica Starts Here' is the only song I know that is twee and sexy at the same time. Then there's the retard reggae of 'Graham Green', a song sung with delicious disdain. I love the way he sings, "Stiffly holding umbrellas, catching the fellows making the toast", his welsh accent lending charm to his contempt. The accent twinned with his literacy know- how make for many exciting moments. Witness the moment in the title track when he rolls the words "how the Beaujolais is raining, down on darkened meetings on the Champs Elysée", all prim and proper.. When I first heard 'Hanky Panky Nohow' I rather absurdly thought Cale was repeatedly saying "hacky paki nohow" in the chorus. 'Hanky Panky' features one of the albums most evocative lyrics as Cale ponders;

"Nothing frightens me more
Than religion at my door
I never answer panic knocking, falling
Down the stairs upon the law
What Law?"

These words strike with a pang when you realise that Cale was apparently molested as a child by a priest. (They're all at it aren't they?) This may explain why John sounds so unsettled on the title track where he sings "I'm the church and I've come to claim you in my iron drum" before a ominous violin darkens the corners of your mind while those words hang in the air. Otherwise 'Paris 1919' is quite a light hearted track, all jerky descending strings, 'Elenor Rigby' if she wasn't so depressed. It's also so dam catchy that I'm sure it's not legal. If you sat in you're bedroom and played the chorus on repeat for so long that you turned into a skeletal bag of excrement, with relatives that presumed you dead months ago - you'd still find joy in the way John briskly sings the "la,la,la,la,lal,la". (As a bonus 'Paris' is infectious on an international scale because everyone knows what "la" means".) In fact, for some one that's so renowned for their work on the mysterious and intimidating avant-garde scene, Cale is a stonkinly great pop songwriter.

The best tracks here may sound like likable but standard pop-rock fair at first. But slowly and steadily they'll creep up on you from all sides and gorge themselves into your consciousness until all other pop music sounds clumsy and inadequate. Its as if Cale took his experimental knowledge into a laboratory and, with the help of some adrenaline samples, grown man tears and a test tube full of post-gig sweat, conjured up an album of cosmic energy and chord patterns that seem to intertwine with your every thought and emotion, answering your mind and souls every whim releasing pleasure bubbles when and where you need them and I'm getting emotional now but fuck it, I'm hungover and I've truly come to love this record. I am Paris 1919. Paris 1919 is God. We are all God. We are all one. And you know what? I'm gonna commit the ultimate sin and admit I love this way more than any Velvet Undies Lp. Of course I like them and all that but Lou Reed always feels too cool for school, detached and exotic. Nothing wrong with that but there's not an equivalent in the V.U catalogue to Cale singing,"What's needed are some memories of planing lakes, those planing lakes will surely calm you down", as if he's got his arm around your shoulder, or "Needing you, taking you. Keeping you, leaving you", said with genuine regret rather than Reed's junkie nihilism and narcissism.

Cale, like me ( and I'll hazard to guess you. Yes YOU reading this) is one of the awkward ones, doomed to be an outsider looking in. (Or should that be inside looking out? Actually it should. The production of Paris 1919 means that hearing John's voice and trying to pick out the words is the auditory equivalent of squinting through the condensation on your window to get a glimpse of a blue bird, or spying on the neighbours you're to embarrassed to talk to.)

Empathy bounces between you and Cale throughout Paris 1919's duration. With Lou Reed you either want to punch him, fuck him or feel sorry for him. Or all three if you're feeling kinky (and he'd enjoy it.)

Paris 1919 takes us on a trip through Dunkirk, Paris, Dundee and Andalucia with music that evokes numerous time periods. To me it's like a travelogue pieced together years after the event, with all the distortions and half memories left unedited. But in the end you get the sense that Cale was never anywhere in the first place, slipping through the net ignored. And this sense makes . . .um sense when you consider that Cale was unable to communicate with his English only speaking father for most of his childhood. He's a ghost la, la, la, la.

If you've made it through this neurotic ramble of a review and have been left with an achy, muddled head, then do yourself a favour. Stock up on some Paris 1919 and feel it nourish the mind. It's unassuming charm will surely calm you down. (10/10)





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Old 07-25-2011, 02:28 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Very nice review. It makes me a bit sad that I could never get into Cale's solo work (and this album in particular). He's a great musician, and Paris 1919 is a beautiful album... it's just too poppy for my taste.
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Old 07-25-2011, 04:55 PM   #3 (permalink)
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You hit the nail on the head with this review. Upon first listen it does sound a little trite and formulaic, but somehow it burrows under the skin. I love this album, although I prefer Fear.
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