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!"


Ian said...

This blog is fantastic - I'm doing one on Low, and I'm glad to see all of these seem to be really high quality so far. I don't know much Cale (although I've got a copy of Stainless Steel Gamelan around here somewhere), but I'm enjoying this a lot for precisely that reason. Keep up the good work!

Ian said...

Oh, almost forgot: As someone with "W.A.S.T.E." tattooed on my arm, I love your choice of pseudonym.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad someone's finally acknowledged this song and given something of an analysis. It's a little too cheesey for Cale, so I'm guessing it's his idea of self-satire.

Inverarity said...

I started this blog because Cale is too little acknowledged in general, but especially because of songs like this or Barracuda... overlooked gems that nobody but Cale could have done.

Given that Engine coexists on Helen of Troy with the over-the-top orchestral version of "(I Keep a) Close Watch", one wonders if he wasn't a little embarrassed. There's no self-mockery in the second half, I think - just a peek into the abyss.

Anonymous said...

To be honest, I haven't heard the original Close Watch. But if looked at in context, the punk movement hadn't really started by the time he wrote this song, and there was very little self-satire in rock music. Was Leaving It Up To You released on Helen of Troy or Slow Dazzle?