Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Sleeper

Larry "Ratso" Sloman (publishing industry itinerant worker and author) was Cale's writing buddy (and presumably partner in crime) during the period that produced Artificial Intelligence (as well as an album's worth of tracks that came out here and there). It's hard to identify a specific change in the resulting lyrics, but the overall feeling is different: the old intensity is channeled into poppier digressions, verses are more coherent and polished, and the weird stuff is more predictable than before. The topics the songs cover, in general, are a little more normal and digestible.

Which has a bad side, I suppose, but also a good one. The Sleeper is a fascinating ditty that seemingly tries to use the human intelligence idea of a sleeper agent to explore a (of course) sordid, disastrous failed romance. It doesn't really succeed, as the connection between the two ideas still eludes me, but it's evocative and thought-provoking anyway.

It's about lovers and enemies who can't stay separate. The narrator goes so far as to compare himself to Jesus and the amour to Satan and implies, by a delightfully subtle use of the subjunctive mood, that despite his hateful rant they, uh, fell to conjugating. Word choice is good, with evocative and paradoxical phrases ("I was the moth stuck on your pin") and twisted syntax that works anyway ("it isn't me that's what's wrong with you"). The solid vocal delivery helps the lyrics work - Cale sounds a bit detached, but not overly, and certainly not bland.

The vocal melody itself is remarkably gentle - not what you'd expect for the lyrics. The inescapably 80s backing track doesn't hurt it too badly. For some reason the electric piano here doesn't sound as insipid as it would ten years later - probably because it's not the central instrument of the track. The percussion (is it live or is it Memorex?) sounds like a typewriter, an interesting effect. The electric guitar and bass play repetitive riffs, seemingly within the same chord for the duration of the song.

It's a good little noir song. Like the album, it's not essential, but like the album it's a rewarding listen.

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