Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Jumbo In Tha Modernworld

Who'd have thought that John Cale, of all people, would fall prey to the politico-anthropomorpho-metaphoric song bug, hanging 'round with Paul and Rog and who knows who. Jumbo In The Modernworld is a very curious song to do it, with, though, as whatever metaphors are there are incredibly opaque. Jumbo is presumably an elephant, having lunch with a lion, to talk about an alliance with/against a giraffe. Meanwhile, a hippo may have stolen all the water due to the incompetence of a buffalo security guard. And we should blame it all on the monkey. Who knows, maybe it's about Ahmed Chalabi and his tailor.

I mostly disregard the lyrics, as pleasant as they feel in the mouth. It's mostly a vocal showcase. You hear our sexagenarian friend shout, keen, sing with falsetto, rant, chant, chatter in the studio, and do a very realistic recreation of a lion growl. It's his strongest, most impressive vocal in a long time - I just hope he didn't hurt himself!

The track is pretty amazing, as well. It starts out with a drone and an electronic kettle-drum sounding-thing. Piano and choppy guitar come in as lead instruments and a metal xylophone-type instrument in the background. A new guitar lead comes in on the chorus, to the right, along with a group of "ooh-wah" chain-gang grunters on the chorus. The two guitar leads do a call and response bit on the second chorus, to good effect.

Then everything drops out, leaving just unbearable tension: quiet viola(?) drone, the xylophone, some hand-tapping percussion, electronic vocal humming, and a group of tribal chanters that all sound like Cale, saying something that sounds like "Jumboweh." This state of affairs can't last, and Cale comes back with the chorus for some real screaming.

This feels like an in-joke that turned into studio screwing-around that turned into a song. Which isn't an insult - if he's to be believed, Cale mostly composes in the studio. Despite this track's relatively lightweight nature, it's still a joy to hear him rock out, especially (there is no good way to say this) if you crave the sound of screaming. It may not be deep, but it's got something. At the very least, it rises above the genre.

The video bears no relationship to the lyrics that I can tell. It's not too original a conceit - it almost seems Seussian - but it works well enough with the music and has some really striking visual touches. It's on the Circus Live DVD, but the song itself is only available electronically and as a radio promo single.

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