Thursday, July 5, 2007

Dr. Mudd

Dr. Samuel Mudd fixed up John Wilkes Booth's leg, broken after an appropriately dramatic jump from Abraham Lincoln's box at Ford's Theater. You know, for all the whining these days about entertainers talking politics, at least they don't get as involved as Booth. Nobody really knows whether Mudd was actually a conspirator in Lincoln's assassination (my bet's no) or whether he had doubts about turning Booth in (my bet's yes). In any case, he did almost four years before being pardoned by President Andrew Johnson.

Now, what the assassination has to do with Chinese nuclear ambitions I don't know. Dr. Mudd the song is a fairly straightforward tract on the Red Menace. Cale revisits Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where "the children's hair fell out and all their skin turned blue." Whatcha gonna do? It seems to be a sympathetic warning to Taiwan and/or Japan, that maybe their American allies aren't very interested in helping them if it comes to all that: "The people back in Washington D.C., they've got a curious sidelong glance / it goes all the way from Capitol Hill up to the Pentagon. What they gonna do, what they gonna do when China drops a bomb on you?"

Which sounds dry and potentially dull, but no! This is a poppy new wave song, with great group backing vocals ("doo doo doo doo-ooh") and a sprightly and highly melodic main vocal line (even if Cale's vocal strain works against it). It's a great combination of dark subject matter with accessible music. It's also a terrible earworm, causing one to annoy the piss out of others when one putters around the house singing the chorus. *ahem*

And the band is hot. The guitar tones sound so good on Sabotage/Live it's criminal, and the playing is exceptional. The bass is a little lacking in force (the recording isn't the best), but it has nice lines. The drums work, providing tension and just a little disco feeling. Compositionally, it feels surprisingly like a Talking Heads song, or perhaps a funkier Siouxsie and the Banshees. Maybe it's not that precise, maybe the recording is naive at best, but the music captured on this album is incredible. I'd even call it a fundamental live recording. Thank god for CBGBs.

(This song is included on John Cale Comes Alive, which I have on vinyl and which I haven't listened to in a while. I'll withhold comment on that version until I hear it again. Can anyone recommend a good service for vinyl ripping, or a trustworthy USB sound card/preamp/turntable combo under $250? My turntable is OK for listening, but not really for recording from.)


Ade said...

Live at Rockpalast is now available on spotify. I enjoyed that version and went looking for more which is how I ended up here.


Inverarity said...

I have since acquired a vinyl rip of JCCA (and discovered that I bought the vinyl twice... oops). The Cale Comes Live version of Dr. Mudd is just fine, but cannot compare. The vocal is good, but less apocalyptic, and the band sounds a lot more diffident. Maybe it's just the miking, but other things on the album manage to make a much better impression. (It sounds to me that there is some primitive low-res digital recording equipment being used? Or maybe it's the rip. Hard to say.)

I'm really hoping that Cale finds a way to reissue this Ze stuff soon. The missing studio albums are bad enough, but a world where Sabotage/Live is not easily available is a criminal world.