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.