Thursday, June 7, 2007

Ocean Life

What do you do with a track that has some great bits and some crap bits? What do you do with an album of it? What do you do with several? These are the questions I have meditated upon this week, while listening, repeatedly, to Cale's almost-decade of work from 1989 to 1996. Primarily Words for the Dying (1989, errr), Last Day on Earth (1994, mostly good), and Walking on Locusts (1996, aarrgh). The things I do.

Ocean Life is one of Cale's trademark spoken-word pieces, the centerpiece of Last Day on Earth , the bizarre "blueprint for theatre" collaboration of Bob Neuwirth. The catch is that the vocal is provided by a Jenni Muldaur, who I see is the daughter of folk singer Maria Muldaur. She brings a weary and wry, yet suspiciously hippie-inflected, voice to some surreal thoughts about the ocean. I thought I hated her voice when I first heard the track, but there's something almost hypnotizing about it.

She is also given credit for "additional lyric." I don't have any idea which lyric that is. The lyrics here suffer from an attraction to cheap paradox and wordplay ("I don't have the patience, but what does it cost on the open market? And who can afford that?", "the dull, sacrilegious commandment of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a truth") that seems unique to this album. Maybe I can blame Bob Neuwirth. Anyway, it's not without its lyrical high points: I appreciate any song (..."or spoken word piece") that refers to peeling retinas, and it ties in conceptually with Barracuda ("I want to be buried at the bottom of the ocean ... kissed by the fishes, sushi for Shabu").

Despite the downmarket synthesizers (or is it infinite guitar?) also unfortunately characteristic of the album, the music manages to be soundtrack kitsch worth listening to. The orchestral drums, throbbing bassline, and synthesizer planes you've heard before, but the banjo and whistled melody (the chorus, as it were) make for a surprising and entertaining listen. It's pleasant, not particularly substantial music.

2 comments:

Illtud Llyr said...

Words for the Dying was my introduction to Cale - it may not be one of his best but there are some great elements to the album. I think I heard Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night on a documentary about Dylan Thomas, and I was completely hooked.

Jack Feerick said...

Jenni Muldaur has a pre-existing Cale connection—her father, Geoff Muldaur, sang backup vocals on Slow Dazzle, most notably on "Guts."