Thursday, May 31, 2007

In the Library of Force

[I was going to start this with, "You might wonder why I didn't include 'Music for a New Society' in the essentials list." Then I noticed a comment on the introduction post calling me out on the omission, heh heh. Fair enough. I keep vacillating on it. The material is generally strong, it's a unique album in modern music, and it has one of the best album titles around. It is Cale's nakedest-feeling recording. On the other hand, I think it a bit overrated, at least insofar as most of his catalog is underrated and neglected. Its extreme low-fi nature is effective, but it gives me pause, as well - the mistake on Chinese Envoy, while surely intentionally left in, doesn't add anything. Finally, it doesn't entirely gel as an album. Quibbles aside, if it were in-print and affordable, it would certainly be on the list. However, I paid 12$US for my cassette tape of it and more than twice that, nearly a year later, for my CD copy. It is a great record, but I can't call it essential until it comes back into print. ]

The difference between the original version and the reissue of Music for a New Society, other than a vanishingly small sound quality improvement on the CD, is "In the Library of Force." It's a unique track. Like most of Music for a New Society, it's incredibly spare musically. Silence keeps poking through the noise like sunlight filtering through clouds and torn cloth. It's more or less atonal: disconnected instrumental bits (synthesizer, drum, acoustic guitar) play randomly, occasionally interacting with one another or the vocal before breaking off again. Meanwhile Cale rants about "the library of force," seemingly a metaphor for the political enabling and rationalizing of violence. It's not the most coherent metaphor - I think the lyrics are improvised - but the vocal is compelling and the images memorable: "Glittering from pages come the precious stones of guilt." Maybe it's the way he sings it, I dunno.

And then the clouds pass, and a beautiful and serene new melody is played on a piano. This darkens with forcefully played minor chords, then brightens, then goes mysterious. The piano piece ends without resolution. A kick drum sounds, and silence reigns.

I think very highly of this piece. It's one of the most satisfying "classical" compositions Cale has done, and yet here it is on a "songwriter" album. If you treat the lyrics as stage dressing and the music as the real content, you'll get more out of it. I'll admit most people would find it unlistenable. There's only one way to find out if you're one of them.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007


You might get the impression that Cale is all blood and guts and foreign policy. (To be honest, I think that's what I like most about him.) But he writes pastoral and love songs, too, and they can be very good. His first album, Vintage Violence, represents itself as sinister but isn't. That false-face mask, the clever title - it's a hoax. Only one song present is really violent; coincidentally, it's the track he's performed most consistently from this album.

But it's not Amsterdam. Amsterdam is a beautiful little song that says a lot with a little. It's a very straightforward plot: John loves girl, girl goes to Amsterdam, girl comes back a bit different (to quote another song: "Thanks for the trouble you took from her eyes / I thought it was there for good, so I never tried.") The heart of the song is the chorus. It's a convincing and underplayed song about preferring the good of one's beloved over having her. "But I love her still," he sings, "and miss her company still more." Call me a sap, but that's the bit that breaks my heart.

His vocal is careful and emotionally resonant. The simple organ and guitar arrangement suits the song by not overplaying anything. The clever doubling of the vocal on "But I love her still" provides oomph without resorting to cliché.

Here's a live performance from a great show in Amsterdam in 2004. The whole thing is available at and very worth a listen.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007


I was going to try to cover all of the studio albums before I started looking at any albums in more depth, but I've wanted to write about this, the most unfortunately overlooked song on Fear. The first of the "liebestod and water" scenes, Barracuda seems to be an account of dead bodies floating and bloating and being eaten in the aftermath of a flood. Though it ends with you (yes, you!) in a dark forest, with the moon, smiling at you, out of reach.

"Dark woman in the water drowning / sinking in a funny way" implies an agent: a barracuda would be the obvious guess. The witty lyrics don't really make linear sense, but there's a general sense of death and desolation and a lot of great (and I daresay funny) imagery - "dark woman like a crow a-crowing for the carrion meat", "ten morons with their whistles blowing", "mimicking our final days." Cale doesn't seem to mind the surroundings - the proto-chorus "the ocean will have us all" is sung matter-of-factly, with just a touch of pride and satisfaction. It's one of his greatest recorded moments.

Which reminds me. It's a formally non-standard song, something Cale was doing quite a bit in the Island Years, and not so much later. It's got two choruses, inserted at funny intervals. And the real chorus is a doozy, especially when you think you've heard the chorus! With a woo-woo girl, Cale speaks in the first person and invites the barracuda to lay down its life for him and to love him. I'm not sure what that's all about (fishing??), but the real effective bit is the last line, the sinister and gleefully delivered, "You always need to bring out the worst in me."

The rhythm track is irreverently funky, with the bass, rhythm guitar, and drums interacting like Shakespearean gravediggers. I think there's supposed to be a bit of an island feel to it. I like the nifty bubbling organ on the protochorus.

The descending viola riff that accompanies Cale's picturesque death scenes here is nothing short of spine-tingling, but it's nothing compared to the atonal (viola) shrieking that follows each chorus. There's no way for me to describe them, you just have to hear them. They're why this one caught my notice the first time I played the album - and why I can't stop listening to it.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Essential Cale

Also see: Essential Songs

Two are inarguable:

Paris 1919 is the man's best album. It fuses his violent and beauty-seeking sides into a musically inventive, lyrically surprising, and wholly captivating album. It's probably best not to think too hard about the historical allusions, as they seem as impressionistic as the rest of the lyrics. There's no overt representation of the "screaming maniac" side of Cale here, but the maniac is submerged into the lyrics, and gets to sing horrible things very sweetly.

Fragments of a Rainy Season
is my favorite live album by anybody and the ideal greatest hits collection to boot. Though Cale is unaccompanied here, his piano and guitar is all the instrumentation these songs need. I've never heard such a walking-on-a-tightrope performance before - not a note or syllable or accent is out of place, but the playing and singing is so intense it feels the whole thing could go off the rail at any moment. The only negative is that it's so good, everything else in his catalog sort of pales by comparison.

You should own one of the following:

Guts takes his Island records and cuts away 70%, leaving a bloody skeleton of the essential maniacal songs. This was the only way his Island discography saw American release back in the 70s, but, though these albums were uneven, I find it loses too much.

Better to buy the Island Years compilation (recently reissued as Gold, with a crap cover photo), which includes the entirety of the Welshman's Doom Trilogy plus all the b-sides, alternate tracks, and an outtake or several - 36 tracks in all. At going rates, it's well under $0.50 US per track.

What of the rest of his catalog? If you don't want to start hunting down imports and long-out-of-print records, your best bet is one or both of these compilations (one of which is an import; the other's out of print - haha):

Close Watch: An Introduction to John Cale is a very broad overview that does a satisfying job of covering his career, the CBGB years not included. Unfortunately, it's heavy on the Island Years, includes the dud "Set Me Free" from "Walking on Locusts", and doesn't give quite enough bang for the buck. No non-album tracks here either. At least it's in print, and you should be able to find it at an affordable price.

Seducing Down the Door
is an excellent comprehensive compilation, full of rarities and surprises. It was published by Rhino in 1994, meaning of course that it's out of print. It also fails to meaningfully represent the CBGB years, including only the inessential blues remake/cover "Walking the Dog." It also devotes a lot of space to Paris and the Island years, but 13 tracks out of 38 isn't too much. The coverage of his early pop-classical work is welcome. A little bit of looking should allow you to grab this for $20 or less - a great deal.

I think Sabotage/Live is essential, since nothing else covers this very unique and unglued period. Cale comes uncomfortably close to getting cheesy rather than harrowing with the screaming here, but doesn't quite go over the line. The band is often great here - this is Cale's hardest-rocking album (until Circus Live, at least), but it still shows his amazing talent for texture and arrangement. The 2000 rerelease also includes the Animal Justice EP and the wonderfully dissolute "Rosengarden Funeral of Sores," the b-side to "Mercenaries (Ready for War)." It, alas, is out of print, but only recently. Good luck. EDIT: Back in print, hallelujah!

The best and most essential of Cale's recent records, 2003's 5 Tracks EP, is hard to find. 2003's Hobosapiens took a while to grow on me, but is well-loved now - its main flaw is overlength. blackAcetate (2005) is constructed strangely, but excellent in spots and worth picking up. These two last LPs should be easy to find, but they probably shouldn't be your first Cale albums.

And if you're into noise and drone - I mean, you're REALLY INTO them:

There's the New York in the 1960s box set, full of all kinds of atavistic wonders. The purest and most essential of the three discs (which are all available separately) is Sun Blindness Music, whose title track features Cale exploring a single chord on an electric organ for 43 minutes (the length of an entire vinyl LP). Which sounds very dull, but the way that chord twinkles and pulsates is anything but. I don't listen to it often, but I feel reborn every time I do (especially in the car). The other two discs are more diverse but less fulfilling.



I tend to prefer accessible Cale. While I first heard this song on the excellent and accessible Fragments of a Rainy Season, it wasn't until I heard the studio original that "Cordoba" really grabbed me. The live version may technically be superior, but I can't say I prefer it. The studio take of "Cordoba" unfolds with a quiet, eerie menace; while I grokked that something bad was going down in the Fragments version, in the sense that something bad is almost always going down in a John Cale song, the Wrong Way Up track grabbed my attention, made me sit up and say, "What the heck is happening here?"

Bombs in suitcases are happening, from the sound of things. This one ranks with Talking Heads' "Listening Wind" as a tune you probably shouldn't be blasting on the car radio whilst going through a border crossing. And especially on the coda, it shows how subtle Cale can be more powerful than angry, screaming Cale; compare the recitation of "the lift stops between two floors... I'll walk towards the station... you walk towards the bus" on here with the more ranty vocals on Fragments. The quiet, detached, perhaps faintly sorrowful vocals on the studio track hint at something horrible yet inevitable-- events are in motion, and cannot now be stopped. It's a cinematic sequence, highly visual in the way many great Cale moments are. The tinkling little backing track reminds me somehow of the ending theme of Koyaanisqatsi (the bit with the burning satellite), and the resemblance to a music box gone wrong makes it all the more affecting. So, while the Fragments "Cordoba" may be another solid track off a stellar live album, I'll take the flawed but involving original.

See a slow and ghostly performance from Amsterdam in 2004 at Fabchannel or listen to the audio:

[Audio Flash Player][Low-quality download]


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Endless Plain of Fortune

Hello. This is the wife mentioned on the About page-- the one who thinks that the blog-owner's definition of "Good John Cale Music" is waaaay too broad. My definition of Good Cale-- nay, great Cale-- is Paris 1919, his finest studio album (no arguments). And my favourite song off the album isn't the title track or the lovely "A Child's Christmas in Wales," great though they are. No, it's "The Endless Plain of Fortune" that I'll hit up again and again.

It's a wonderful and evocative title, a title that promises something epic in a Don Quixote way. We don't quite get Don Quixote, but we do get something of the exotic. The song is infused with the same kind of quasi-historicity that permeates the album; Paris 1919 exists in the space between the Great War and the end of Empire-- while the songs aren't any more historical than Neil Young's "Like An Inca," they possess a unique and haunting atmosphere. Shadowy characters rise out of the lyrics-- Field Marshal, Martha, Segovia, the Radio Man-- and disappear again. And while I don't always hang on to every lyric while listening to Cale, fascinating phrases catch my attention while I'm submerging myself in the music: "it's gold that eats the heart and leaves the bones to dry," "she walked away in time/she walked a crooked line," and more. I notice different facets of the lyric with every listen.

Is it a post-colonial critique of South African gold mining and British policy in the Transvaal? Is it the plot of some old film as fed through the Cale filter? I don't know, and almost don't want to find out; the mystery is part of the charm. Great backing track, too... it does have a bit of a movie-theme feel, and I mean that in the best possible way.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Somebody Should Have Told Her

"It was easy to identify her body when she found her way back home." Beautifully ugly. As I said here, "Dead Or Alive" and this song seem to share a central idea. Where "Dead or Alive" yoked an allusively-told noir tale to a poppy tune, this song from 'Even Cowgirls Get the Blues' combines a dark and oppressive guitar-and-organ piece with more specific lyrics.

I get the feeling that maybe the lyrics weren't quite settled when this live recording was made and/or the lyrics that have been transcribed are maybe a bit wrong. (I also get the feeling that ROIR took Cale out for a drink or twenty to get him to approve this sub-bootleg quality recording for release.) Nevertheless, there are nice touches throughout: "I could have worked so hard to tell her / She would never have listened at all." The narrator's anger and frustration with both the victim and himself is a trick the song shares with "Dead or Alive."

Musically, it opens with a loping drumbeat, long organ chords, and Ritchie Fliegler's guitar. Cale's electric piano vamping and vocals come in next for the verses. The song brightens up at the chorus, with drums sounding on the beat and the organ doing some vamping of its own. The chorus, which modulates up into a major key, doesn't sound very depressive, Cale's hoarse vocals notwithstanding.

The last chorus gives way to a Fliegler-led coda (sharing the chorus lyrics and many of its characteristics) that in spots sounds almost triumphant. I suppose it's possible this is yet another murderer. Psychologically speaking, a very interesting song. It's a great song, really. It's just a shame that a glorified bootleg is the only way it's available.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007


This is, to my mind, the Cale manifesto. Artistic manifestos rarely describe artists' careers accurately. Neil Young's "Mr. Soul," Warren Zevon's "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead," etc. are more brands than statements of purpose. Our boy John's "Engine", though, is very detailed, specific, and accurate. Poor guy.

It starts piano and a little cheesy, with Cale declaiming (in the cadences of a lush, over precious piano) about being dismissed as a wastrel, with maybe a bit of Jonathan Richman rubbing off on his vocal: "Someone's always telling me / You're just a loser / but I don't pay them too much attention." But he goes his own way, through the arts and his lovers and things. Drums come in; something must be about to happen!

And he gets to the heart of the matter, as the guitars and organ come in and the vocals and instruments slide towards atonality: "I've got something locked up inside me / gotta find out what it is / gotta find out what that something is / that's driving me out of my mind." The scream that "mind" turns into isn't one of Cale's most histrionic, but it seems pretty realistic. A funky groove is found, with ranting about what's burning on top, before dissolving again. The track finally settles into a pulsing drone of organs and piano, with distorted guitar playing the same descending figure the organ came in with, over Cale's hissed chant: "Engine!"


Monday, May 14, 2007


A song like the Mona Lisa. Not in terms of quality (because it's certainly not one of the better songs on 1974's 'Fear,' one of the essential albums) but in terms of construction. "Emily" is a hard song to get a bead on. Even having heard it hundreds of times, I still don't really know if I like it. I do listen to it, and it does intrigue me.

The actual lyric and melody seems straightforward and, well, a bit naff. (The portrait's main flaw, on the other hand, is ubiquity.) As you look closer, though, the straightforwardness dissipates. Cale's voice is wonderful on this one. At first, you think he's singing an awful parting song to an estranged lover. Then, with the woo-woo girls joining on the "Maybe we'll love again" chorus, you decide that she must be dead. Repeated listenings, however, reveal an element of glee or gloating in Cale's voice (the equivalent of the smile). I don't know about anyone else, but I think of the narrator of Emily as a murderer.

And the backing track! The synthetic (?) wind-and-wave sound behind the simple bass and piano instrumentation is alien and frightening, definitely the best part of this recording. (Finishing the metaphor, this would be the alien scene behind La Gioconda.) And what an ingenious coda: the voices fade out, but the wind and the waves keep on.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Dead Or Alive

'Honi Soit,' Cale's tenth studio album, was a very strange album. Although there are signs that someone wanted commercial accessibility, "Dead Or Alive" and "Magic & Lies" chief among them, most of the album was nearly as far from accessible as possible. It's a very good album, hurt by the poorly miked drums and questionable and very heterogeneous mixes.

Of course, "Dead or Alive" is really only commercial by comparison to the rest of it. I think it's the story of a lover of the narrator who drifts from the party lifestyle to pornography to prostitution to death. Lyrically, it seems a reworking of the CGBG's-era song "Somebody Should Have Told Her," though they share virtually nothing musically. Both are full of frustration and regret, mixed with an element of "told you so." This one has the standout line, "She turns and smiles/says goodbye in her inimical way."

The song has one of the strangest guest instrumentals I can think of in the Cale ouevre: a trumpet plays baroque phrases over the intro and choruses. The guitar tone is great on this one. More stacatto guitar chords for the verses, merging into long, low growl on the verses. I'm not sure I like the piano: the live solo version I have (which I'll try to get an mp3 up for next week) has the same piano part and still feels dated. Anyway, underneath the mediocre and mushy arrangement there is a painful and fairly powerful song. That's the story of Honi Soit, really.

I should note that this album is in print in Great Britain via an on-demand service. That is, they burn you a CDR when you order it and print out cover art. It's better than nothing, I suppose.


Checklist - Compilations

Guts (my album review)
Island Records, 1977

  1. Guts
  2. Mary Lou
  3. Helen Of Troy
  4. Pablo Picasso
  5. Leaving It Up To You
  6. Fear (Is A Man's Best Friend)
  7. Gun
  8. Dirty Ass Rock 'n' Roll
  9. Heartbreak Hotel
Seducing Down the Door
Rhino Records, 1994
Disc 1:

  1. The Protege
  2. Big White Cloud
  3. Amsterdam
  4. Days of Steam
  5. Temper
  6. Dixieland And Dixie
  7. Child's Christmas in Wales
  8. Paris 1919
  9. Andalucia
  10. Fear (Is A Man's Best Friend)
  11. Gun
  12. (I Keep A) Close Watch
  13. Heartbreak Hotel
  14. Dirty-Ass Rock 'n' Roll
  15. Guts
  16. The Jeweller
  17. Pablo Picasso
  18. Leaving It Up To You
  19. Coral Moon
  20. Memphis
Disc 2:
  1. Jack The Ripper
  2. Hedda Gabler
  3. Walkin' The Dog
  4. Dead Or Alive
  5. Strange Times In Casablanca
  6. Taking Your Life In Your Hands
  7. Thoughtless Kind
  8. Chinese Envoy
  9. Caribbean Sunset
  10. Waiting For The Man
  11. Ooh La La
  12. Everytime The Dogs Bark
  13. Dying On The Vine
  14. The Soul of Carmen Miranda
  15. One Word
  16. Cordoba
  17. Trouble with Classicists
  18. Faces and Names
The Island Years/Gold
Island Records, 1996; Universal Music, 2007
Disc 1:
  1. Fear (Is A Man's Best Friend)
  2. Buffalo Ballet
  3. Barracuda
  4. Emily
  5. Ship Of Fools
  6. Gun
  7. The Man Who Couldn't Afford To Orgy
  8. You Know More Than I Know
  9. Momamma Scuba
  10. Sylvia Said
  11. All I Want Is You
  12. Bamboo Floor
  13. Mr. Wilson
  14. Taking It All Away
  15. Dirty Ass Rock 'n' Roll
  16. Darling I Need You
  17. Rollaroll
Disc 2:
  1. Heartbreak Hotel
  2. Ski Patrol
  3. I'm Not The Loving Kind
  4. Guts
  5. The Jeweller
  6. My Maria
  7. Helen Of Troy
  8. China Sea
  9. Engine
  10. Save Us
  11. Cable Hogue
  12. (I Keep A) Close Watch
  13. Pablo Picasso
  14. Leaving It Up To You
  15. Baby, What You Want Me To Do?
  16. Sudden Death
  17. You & Me
  18. Coral Moon
  19. Mary Lou
Close Watch: An Introduction to John Cale
Island Records, 1999
  1. Paris 1919
  2. Mr. Wilson
  3. Leaving It Up To You
  4. Dying On The Vine
  5. Guts
  6. Set Me Free
  7. Heartbreak Hotel
  8. Ship of Fools
  9. Cable Hogue
  10. Gun
  11. Riverbank
  12. Child's Christmas in Wales
  13. Fear (Is A Man's Best Friend)
  14. If You Were Still Around
  15. Wilson Joliet
  16. (I Keep A) Close Watch


Checklist - Live Albums

Le Bataclan '72
Dynamic, 2003

  1. Waiting for the Man
  2. Berlin (Lou Reed)
  3. Black Angel's Death Song
  4. Wild Child (Lou Reed)
  5. Heroin
  6. Ghost Story
  7. The Biggest, Loudest, Hairiest Group of All
  8. Empty Bottles
  9. Femme Fatale
  10. No One Is There
  11. Frozen Warnings
  12. Janitor of Lunacy
  13. I'll Be Your Mirror
  14. All Tomorrow's Parties
Live at Rockpalast
MIG Records, 2010
Disc 1 (Essen 1984):
  1. Autobiography
  2. Ooh La La
  3. Evidence
  4. Magazines
  5. Model Beirut Recital
  6. Streets Of Laredo
  7. Dr. Mudd
  8. Leaving It Up To You
  9. Caribbean Sunset
  10. The Hunt
  11. Fear (Is a Man's Best Friend)
  12. Heartbreak Hotel
  13. Paris 1919
  14. Waiting for the Man
  15. Mercenaries (Ready For War)
  16. Pablo Picasso / Love Me Two Times
  17. (I Keep A) Close Watch
Disc 2 (Bochum 1983):
  1. Ghost Story
  2. Ship Of Fools
  3. Leaving It Up To You
  4. Amsterdam
  5. Child's Christmas In Wales
  6. Buffalo Ballet
  7. Antarctica Starts Here
  8. Taking It All Away
  9. Riverbank
  10. Paris 1919
  11. Guts
  12. Chinese Envoy
  13. Thoughtless Kind
  14. Only Time Will Tell
  15. Cable Hogue
  16. Dead Or Alive
  17. Waiting for the Man
  18. Heartbreak Hotel
  19. Chorale
  20. Fear (Is a Man's Best Friend)
  21. (I Keep A) Close Watch
  22. Streets Of Laredo
John Cale Comes Alive
Ze Records, 1984
  1. Ooh La La
  2. Evidence
  3. Dead Or Alive
  4. Chinese Envoy
  5. Leaving It Up To You
  6. Dr. Mudd
  7. Waiting For The Man
  8. Heartbreak Hotel
  9. Fear (Is a Man's Best Friend)
  10. Never Give Up On You
Fragments of a Rainy Season
Hannibal Records, 1992
  1. Child's Christmas In Wales
  2. Dying On The Vine
  3. Cordoba
  4. Darling I Need You
  5. Paris 1919
  6. Guts
  7. Fear (Is a Man's Best Friend)
  8. Ship Of Fools
  9. Leaving It Up To You
  10. The Ballad Of Cable Hogue
  11. Thoughtless Kind
  12. On a Wedding Anniversary
  13. Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed
  14. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
  15. Buffalo Ballet
  16. Chinese Envoy
  17. Style It Takes
  18. Heartbreak Hotel
  19. (I Keep A) Close Watch
  20. Hallelujah
More Fragments
Les Inrockuptiles, 1992
  1. Where There's A Will
  2. (I Keep A) Close Watch
  3. You Know More Than I Know
  4. Heartbreak Hotel
Circus Live
EMI, 2007
Disc 1:
  1. Venus In Furs
  2. Save Us
  3. Helen Of Troy
  4. Woman
  5. Buffalo Ballet
  6. Femme Fatale/Rosegarden Funeral of Sores
  7. Hush
  8. Outta The Bag
  9. Set Me Free
  10. Cable Hogue
  11. Look Horizon
  12. Magritte
  13. Dirty Ass Rock 'n' Roll
Disc 2:
  1. Walkin' The Dog
  2. Gun
  3. Hanky Panky Nohow
  4. Pablo Picasso/Mary Lou
  5. Drone - Into Amsterdam Suite
  6. Zen
  7. Style It Takes
  8. Heartbreak Hotel
  9. Mercenaries (Ready For War)
  10. Outro Drone
  1. Fragments: Model Beirut Recital/Sold Motel/Gun/Reading My Mind
  2. Heartbreak Hotel X
  3. Dancing Undercover
  4. You Know More Than I Know
  5. GravelDrive
  6. Chorale
  7. Ghost Story
  8. Jumbo in Tha Modernworld
  9. GravelDrive (Blathamix)
  10. Big White Cloud (2007 remake from Smoking Aces soundtrack)


Waiting for the Man

In the early 80s, at least, Waiting for the Man was Cale's favorite Velvets song to cover. He turned it into an occasion to do atonal piano exploration and some amazing shrieking. It was the scene of some of the most dramatic vocals of his live career: the tense beginning, the gradual distortion of the vocals as the goods make their way in, and finally the cathartic echoing shrieks. It puts a spring in your step!

I'd like the hear the live version from Berlin, 1984. Rants about Augusto Pinochet and the Emperor Claudius are always welcome.

This solo piano iteration from Christchurch, New Zealand in 1983 may not be the best performance, but it gives you an idea of the intensity of his live shows at the time:

Here's an MP3 (full quality in a Flash player here) of a better performance from John Cale Comes Alive (anthologized on the essential Seducing Down the Door compilation, which is out of print like most essential Cale). It's a good, tight band, but I don't like the recording - it sounds like overlimited, bass-free 80s crap. The vocal, though... it's worth hearing. The other version I have, from the Cale Street roio, is not quite as impressive.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Mr. Wilson

The lead track of 'Slow Dazzle' is "Mr. Wilson," a partly-ironic and partly-sincere tribute to Brian Wilson. (And also, I've heard, Harold Wilson, but I dunno about that.) It's a very light song with an acid center, which makes it hard to interpret. If I had to try, I'd say that Cale is identifying with Wilson ("Take your mixes, not your mixture/Add some music to our day", "Whisper whisper, got a monkey on my back") and that it quite scares him. Though that probably fits his future career trajectory too closely to be true. Anyway, what that has to do with Annette Funicello or the movies he mumbles ("I know your movies/'In the Sea' and 'Serenade'"), I've got no idea.

It's a strong though too-cute piece of music, with deliciously cheesy string/xylophone/choir (mellotron?) arrangements and repetitive electric piano chords played staccato. Some jauntily syncopated drumming on the sinister middle eight is a treat to hear. This has an interesting form: two times verse + chorus, a middle eight + chorus, and a coda. I should note: in the coda, despite the ironic and mysterious lyric "California wine tastes fine," all musical irony drops out and only a frankly affecting string part and vocal harmonies are left.


John Milton

"John Milton" is the final track on the curiously non-perilous 'The Academy in Peril.' It's a good composition, and that's no lie, but I have to admit that I don't understand the connection between the work and its namesake. The piano composition is Cale's usual pensive and slow-to-slower meandering (also observed on this album in the title track and "Brahms", and taken to its acme on the 'Process' soundtrack). Here it's sweetened up and even focused by an intermittently appearing, constantly mutating orchestral arrangement. There's likely no technique you haven't heard before in the orchestration, but it's well done. Overall an eclectic and enjoyable piece of music.


Checklist - Instrumental Albums

Church of Anthrax
Columbia, 1971

  1. Church of Anthrax
  2. The Hall of Mirrors in the Palace at Versailles
  3. The Soul of Patrick Lee
  4. Ides of March
  5. The Protege
The Academy in Peril
Columbia, 1972
  1. The Philosopher
  2. Brahms
  3. Legs Larry at Television Centre
  4. The Academy in Peril
  5. Intro
  6. Days of Steam
  7. Three Orchestral Pieces: Faust/The Balance/Captain Morgan's Lament
  8. King Harry
  9. John Milton
Paris S'eveille
Les Disques du Crépuscule, 1991
  1. Paris S'eveille
  2. Sanctus (Four Etudes For Electronic Orchestra)
    1. First Etude
    2. Second Etude
    3. Third Etude
    4. Fourth Etude
  3. Animals At Night
  4. The Cowboy Laughs At The Round-up
  5. Primary Motive
    1. Factory Speech
    2. Strategy Session
    3. Closing Titles
  6. Booker T.
  7. Antarctica Starts Here
Les Disques du Crépuscule, 1995
  1. Flashback 1#1
  2. Antártida
  3. Velasco's Theme
  4. Maria's Appartement
  5. Flashback 1#2
  6. On The Waterfront
  7. Pasodoble Mortal
  8. Maria's Dream
  9. Flashback 1#3
  10. Antarctica Starts Here
  11. Flashback 3
  12. Sunset
  13. Get Away
  14. Flashback 1#4
  15. Antartida Starts Here
  16. Frame Up
  17. Barn
  18. People Who Died
  19. Flashback 1#5
I Shot Andy Warhol
Tag Recordings, 1996
Eat/Kiss: Music for the Films of Andy Warhol
Hannibal, 1997

  1. I. for Infinite Guitar and quartet
  2. II. Frozen Warning, for metal violin and Infinite Guitar
  3. III. for pedal steel, drums, and string quartet
  4. IV. for solo violin, voice, and string quartet
  5. V. for harpsichord and Infinite Guitar
  6. VI. for harpsichord, vocals, and string quartet
  7. VII. for solo cello, harpsichord, and string quartet
  8. VIII. for pedal steel, electric piano, and string quartet
  9. IX. for pedal steel, electric piano, and string quartet
  10. X. for string quartet
  11. XI. for vocals and string quartet


  1. I. for for pedal steel and 12-string guitar
  2. II. Reading from 'Melanethon' (Swedenborg)
  3. III. for violin, 12-string guitar, and drums
  4. IV. for pedal steel and piano
Somewhere in the City
Velvel, 1998
  1. Marta & Frankie
  2. Love Scene
  3. Pennywhistle
  4. Drive Up to Robbery
  5. Marta & Frankie (Reprise)
  6. Indistinct Notion of Cool
Dance Music (Nico)
Detour, 1998
  1. Intro
  2. New York Underground
  3. Night Club Theme
  4. Modelling
  5. Out Of China
  6. Death Camp
  7. Ari Sleepy Too
  8. Iceberg I
  9. Jim
  10. Iceberg II
  11. España
  12. Nibelungen
American Psycho
Universal Pictures, 2000
Inside the Dream Syndicate Vol. I: Day of Niagara
Table of the Elements, 2000
  1. Day of Niagara

Sun Blindness Music
Table of the Elements, 2001
  1. Sun Blindness Music
  2. Summer Heat
  3. The Second Fortress
Inside The Dream Syndicate Vol. II: Dream Interpretation
Table of the Elements, 2001
  1. Dream Interpretation
  2. Ex-Cathedra
  3. [Untitled] for Piano
  4. Carousel
  5. A Midnight Rain of Green Wrens at the World's Tallest Building
  6. Hot Scoria
Inside The Dream Syndicate Vol. III: Stainless Gamelan (box set version)
Table of the Elements, 2001
  1. Stainless Steel Gamelan
  2. At About This Time Mozart Was Dead And Joseph Conrad Was Sailing the Seven Seas Learning English
  3. Terry's Cha-Cha
  4. After the Locust
  5. Big Apple Express
  6. Cold Starry Nights - Jack Smith, with Cale/Conrad music
  7. Silent Shadows on Cinemaroc Island, A Moment of Affected Rapture - Jack Smith, with Cale/Conrad music


Checklist - Songwriter Albums

Vintage Violence
Columbia Records, 1970

  1. Hello There
  2. Gideon's Bible
  3. Adelaide
  4. Big White Cloud
  5. Cleo
  6. Please
  7. Charlemagne
  8. Bring It On Up
  9. Amsterdam
  10. Ghost Story
  11. Fairweather Friend
Paris 1919
Reprise Records, 1973
  1. Child's Christmas in Wales
  2. Hanky Panky Nohow
  3. The Endless Plain of Fortune
  4. Andalucia
  5. Macbeth
  6. Paris 1919
  7. Graham Greene
  8. Half Past France
  9. Antarctica Starts Here
2007 reissue adds:
Island Records, 1974
  1. Fear (Is a Man's Best Friend)
  2. Buffalo Ballet
  3. Barracuda
  4. Emily
  5. Ship Of Fools
  6. Gun
  7. The Man Who Couldn't Afford to Orgy
  8. You Know More Than I Know
  9. Momamma Scuba
Slow Dazzle
Island Records, 1975
  1. Mr. Wilson
  2. Taking It All Away
  3. Dirty-Ass Rock 'n' Roll
  4. Darling I Need You
  5. Rollaroll
  6. Heartbreak Hotel
  7. Ski Patrol
  8. I'm Not the Loving Kind
  9. Guts
  10. The Jeweller
Helen of Troy
Island Records, 1975
  1. My Maria
  2. Helen Of Troy
  3. China Sea
  4. Engine
  5. Save Us
  6. Cable Hogue
  7. (I Keep a) Close Watch
  8. Pablo Picasso
  9. Leaving It Up To You
    alt: Coral Moon
    [Replaced "Leaving It Up To You" after the first pressing]
  10. Baby, What You Want Me To Do?
  11. Sudden Death
Animal Justice EP
Illegal, 1977
  1. Chickenshit
  2. Memphis
  3. Hedda Gabler
Even Cowgirls Get The Blues
ROIR, 1987 (Recorded 1978/1979)
  1. Dance Of The Seven Veils
  2. Helen Of Troy
  3. Casey At The Bat
  4. Even Cowgirls Get The Blues
  5. Don't Know Why She Came
  6. Somebody Should Have Told Her
  7. Decade
  8. Magic & Lies
Special Stock, 1986
Vinyl version includes:
  1. Jack the Ripper
  2. Dead Or Alive
  3. Memphis
Spy Records, 1979
  1. Mercenaries (Ready for War)
  2. Baby You Know
  3. Evidence
  4. Dr. Mudd
  5. Walkin' the Dog
  6. Captain Hook
  7. Only Time Will Tell
  8. Sabotage
  9. Chorale
Diesel Motor, 2000
Reissue adds:
  1. Chickenshit
  2. Memphis
  3. Hedda Gabler
  4. Rosegarden Funeral of Sores
Honi Soit
A&M, 1981
  1. Dead Or Alive
  2. Strange Times In Casablanca
  3. Fighter Pilot
  4. Wilson Joliet
  5. Streets of Laredo
  6. Honi Soit (La Première Leçon De Français)
  7. Riverbank
  8. Russian Roulette
  9. Magic & Lies
Music for a New Society
Ze Records, 1982; Rhino, 1994
  1. Taking Your Life In Your Hands
  2. Thoughtless Kind
  3. Sanities
  4. If You Were Still Around
  5. (I Keep) A Close Watch / Mama's Song
  6. Broken Bird
  7. Chinese Envoy
  8. Changes Made
  9. Damn Life
  10. Risé, Sam And Rimsky-Korsakov
  11. In The Library of Force
Caribbean Sunset
Ze Records, 1984
  1. Hungry For Love
  2. Experiment Number 1
  3. Model Beirut Recital
  4. Caribbean Sunset
  5. Praetorian Underground
  6. Magazines
  7. Where There's A Will
  8. The Hunt
  9. Villa Albani
Artificial Intelligence
Beggars Banquet, 1985
  1. Everytime the Dogs Bark
  2. Dying on the Vine
  3. The Sleeper
  4. Vigilante Lover
  5. Chinese Takeaway (Hong Kong 1997)
  6. Song of the Valley
  7. Fadeaway Tomorrow
  8. Black Rose
  9. Satellite Walk
Words for the Dying
Land/Opal Records, 1989; Table of the Elements, 2005
  1. Introduction
  2. There Was A Saviour/Interlude I
  3. On A Wedding Anniversary
  4. Interlude II
  5. Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed
  6. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
  7. Songs Without Words I
  8. Songs Without Words II
  9. The Soul of Carmen Miranda
Songs for Drella - with Lou Reed
Sire, 1990
  1. Smalltown
  2. Open House
  3. Style It Takes
  4. Work
  5. Trouble With The Classicists
  6. Starlight
  7. Faces And Names
  8. Images
  9. Slip Away (A Warning)
  10. It Wasn't Me
  11. I Believe
  12. Nobody But You
  13. A Dream
  14. Forever Changed
  15. Hello It's Me
Wrong Way Up - with Brian Eno
Land, 1990 - Table of the Elements, 2005
  1. Lay My Love
  2. One Word
  3. In The Backroom
  4. Empty Frame
  5. Cordoba
  6. Spinning Away
  7. Footsteps
  8. Been There Done That
  9. Crime In The Desert
  10. The River
Bonus tracks:
Last Day on Earth - with Bob Neuwirth
MCA, 1994
  1. Overture
  2. Café Shabu
  3. Pastoral Angst
  4. Who's In Charge?
  5. Short Of Time
  6. Angel Of Death
  7. Paradise Nevada
  8. Old China
  9. Ocean Life
  10. Instrumental
  11. Modern World
  12. Streets Come Alive
  13. Secrets
  14. Maps Of The World
  15. Broken Hearts
  16. The High And Mighty Road
Walking on Locusts
Hannibal Records, 1996
  1. Dancing Undercover
  2. Set Me Free
  3. So What
  4. Crazy Egypt
  5. So Much For Love
  6. Tell Me Why
  7. Indistinct Notion Of Cool
  8. Secret Corrida
  9. Circus
  10. Gatorville & Points East
  11. Some Friends
  12. Entre Nous
5 Tracks
EMI, 2003
  1. Verses
  2. Waiting For Blonde
  3. Chums of Dumpty (we all are)
  4. E Is Missing
  5. Wilderness Approaching
EMI, 2003
  1. Zen
  2. Reading My Mind
  3. Things
  4. Look Horizon
  5. Magritte
  6. Archimedes
  7. Caravan
  8. Bicycle
  9. Twilight Zone
  10. Letter From Abroad
  11. Things X
  12. Over Her Head
  13. Set Me Free (remake)
EMI, 2005
  1. Outta The Bag
  2. For A Ride
  3. Brotherman
  4. Satisfied
  5. In A Flood
  6. Hush
  7. Gravel Drive
  8. Perfect
  9. Sold Motel
  10. Woman
  11. Wasteland
  12. Turn The Lights On
  13. Mailman (The Lying Song)
EP: Extra Playful
Double Six/Domino Records, 2011
  1. Catastrofuk
  2. Whaddya Mean By That
  3. Hey Ray
  4. Pile A L'Heure
  5. Perfection
  6. Bluetooth Swings*
  7. The Hanging*
* North American limited "Black Edition"

Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood
Double Six/Domino Records, 2012
  1. I Wanna Talk 2 U
  2. Scotland Yard
  3. Hemingway
  4. Face To The Sky
  5. Nookie Wood
  6. December Rains
  7. Mary
  8. Vampire Cafe
  9. Mothra
  10. Living With You
  11. Midnight Feast
  12. Sandman (Flying Dutchman)


Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Satellite Walk

Best to start this with a low-content song. Satellite Walk, the final track of 1985's underrated Artificial Intelligence, is a nonsense ditty about nuclear apocalypse. The meaningful lyrics are fairly transparent ("I took my Tomahawk for a satellite walk"). It's not hard to see it as a dig at upper-middle-class self-absorption under the shadow of the Bomb, but your guess is as good as mine. The chorus/coda ("Wake up/Get up/Let's dance") is an injection of "romance" of some sort or another into a sociopolitical song, ala Leonard Cohen's "First We Take Manhattan," Neil Young's "Around the World," and the Who's "Eminence Front." I'd love to know where this idea came from, though I wouldn't be surprised if it was Cohen.

Musically, the song is hookier than average for Cale. Verse lyrics are more or less a spoken-word chant. The chorus is sung with a woman - it's pure hook, with no real melody to speak of either. It's a very tense, rhythmic, jerky song. Metallic, repetitive, stacatto guitar gives the song a very unsettling feel - the best thing about it. The synthesizer line is rather silly. It's very of its time, though, as are the uninteresting bass line and drum machine pattern.

It sounds like a digital recording. While it's far from the worst I've heard of its era, it's still unpleasantly limited.



So, stealing a perfectly wonderful idea from Pop Songs 07 (appropriately facilitated by Hans Werksman) I figured it would be a worthwhile use of five minutes here and there to review a vast, unwieldy, and hard-to-find catalog. Hard for me to find, anyway.

In the time since I've discovered him, John Cale has become one of my favorite musicians. His catalog is one of the most eclectic (eccentric?) out there, and his changes in sound and mood between (or within) albums make even Neil Young look predictable. He has recorded for around ten record labels, which makes his catalog hard to find in print. I have, if memory serves, 31 of his albums. Of those, I think five are currently in print in the US.

This makes him a difficult artist to get into if you want to, not to mention a difficult artist to even be exposed to. His most famous recording by far is a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" - used in the soundtracks of Basquiat, Scrubs, and Shrek, not to mention the Cohen tribute 'I'm Your Fan.' It's the best version of a great-if-overplayed song, but there's so much more to his catalog.

Not all of which is good, mind you. My wife's convinced that my definition of "good Cale" is far too wide, but even I have some standards. Anyway, I'll try to be objective. There are a few recordings that I consider essential to a decent record collection, but the power and uniqueness of some of his best work intrinsically limits its appeal.

Anyway, there's not nearly enough writing about his work, and it's hard to get a sense of what it's all about. Not that I know, but I have some ideas at this point. And there you are.