Friday, June 22, 2007


I love the drums on Magritte. They feel jerky, like clattering boxcar wheels. (I'm sure there's a technical term for this, since it's a technique I've heard in many places). And sometimes they switch places with a really synthetic drum machine. This track collects all of Cale's performing instruments into one place: the lead instrument is viola, with bass adding violence and piano connecting the verses with the middle eight. There's more, of course - on HoboSapiens Cale tends to layer on instrument after instrument, sound after sound, until the song almost suffocates. It makes the songs in question hard to really appreciate on first (or fifth) listen, but as a result they tend to be growers. After my fifteenth listen I loved the album. I don't know how many people made it that far, though.

L'histoire centrale - the searching of the river continuedViolence, yes. It's a violent song, and I'm not sure why it should be. It's a covert violence, sort of reminiscent of the incredible violence that sits in plain view in much of Magritte's work. He's a gimmick painter in the popular perception, with his floating faceless bowler-hatted men and his endless blue skies. His work almost seems too easy to enjoy, to me - it doesn't take any work to look at his paintings and feel fear and recognition and some semblance of understanding. Everything seems there on the surface - maybe everything is the surface. (It certainly is for his imitators.) But his work is irresistable - I can't not look.

Which is sort of how I feel about this song. The sonic picture is evocative, but feels a little shallow, somehow. The lyric mentions some of the icons of Magritte's oeuvre, umbrellas and bowler hats inside a canvas of blue, saturated with beauty. It seems like a fairly literal and not very meaty evocation. But like Magritte's work, it's laced with half-hidden questions of memory ("how often we forgot Magritte"), perception ("pinned to the edges of vision"), and violence ("someone's coming that hates us"). These questions make me wonder if I don't give the song and the painter enough credit for depth. Maybe someday it will all click.

The live version on Circus Live hews very closely to the recorded version. It's a pleasant listen, but I don't think it offers anything new. I don't skip it, but I don't really skip to it, either.

P.S. I love the suggestion I've read somewhere that it's a depiction of an art theft - I don't know that I agree, but it's given me some enjoyable thoughts. I think it's appropriate, anyway.

Here's a cool little fan video that juxtaposes the painter with the song.


Anonymous said...

There is no viola on Magritte. A beautiful cello is Godot, and the violins are angels :–)

Ian said...

After watching that video... I really like this song.