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 fabchannel.com and very worth a listen.