Thursday, August 16, 2007

So Much For Love

Do you want to know why I hate Walking On Locusts? "So Much for Love" might be the very worst track on it, but it's bad in a representative way. It's lumpen, leaden, vague, clichéd, tuneless. I don't get it. It's so banal lyrically nobody has even bothered to transcribe lyrics over at Fear Is a Man's Best Friend. I'll do it, though, just to prove a point.

Since you've been gone
Many things have changed

The days get longer

We spend our nights alone

Before you took
The time to see
You didn't let me down

You're a phone-call away

Now the time has come

To think of you a while
I cannot leave you now (I cannot leave you now)

Though the door is open wide (oh open wide)

You're in my mind and soul
And I've said it before

So much for love
So long for now
So much for love
It's been good to know you

We'll meet again
Where it all began
A souvenir of the past
And I guess it's the last

So much for love
So much for love

Let's start with the music. The song is a 70bpm affair, dilating time via its porn-groove bassline and pointless Kenny G-sax-like electric guitar wanking. The ubiquitous poor-quality electric piano (one of the major limiting factors on Cale's performances in the 80s and 90s) is über alles on this album, raining a golden shower of insipidity down upon the listener on this song as on most others. The horns that come in after the bridge don't do a thing to help, either. There isn't a single decent melody here, though the bridge might be acceptable in a better song.

And, well, the lyrics speak for themselves. There's none of the usual imagination, inventive detail, perceptive characterization. It's just one cliché after another. I don't get it.

A few possible explanation for the failings of Walking on Locusts (which is admittedly still half-decent - it's the half that isn't that kills me). Either John Cale circa 1996 was suffering from a catastrophic lack of taste, he'd developed a hatred towards his fanbase, he'd gotten the idea that only pap for the toothless sells today (not that this sold!), or he was trying to write from the heart for once and couldn't take the knife to himself. I have no idea which of these, if any, are true. But the result is uncharacteristically awful.

If you're getting into John Cale, avoid this album at all costs. It's a "for completists only" sort of album; it's a shame that it's among the most common finds in used music stores. The really mystifying thing is that not only was he proud of it at the time, but he was dismissive of his earlier work! Maybe it was just a momentary lapse of taste. I don't get it.


Jack Feerick said...

Hm. See, I don’t hate Walking On Locusts, and I don’t think it fails quite as badly as your assessment indicates. I think you’re on to something with Cale trying to write from the heart. There are moments on Walking that I find quite moving, and “moving” is an adjective I hardly ever associate with Cale.

Here’s the thing: the profoundest sentiments often do sound inescapably cliché. “I love you” is the most powerful statement in the world, and also the most banal. It’s all about delivery. And on this song (and others on Walking), I get the impression that Cale is intentionally trying to keep the language as basic as possible and to sell the emotion of the song purely on the performance. It’s not that far-fetched, given Cale’s odd relationship with the English language and his admission that he often chooses words and phrases for their sound-value rather than their actual meaning. It’s not so much what he sings as how he sings it.

And frankly, I think he sings the hell out of this; the voice, so weary and yet so tender, a rasp always on the verge of becoming a crack. Not enough to save the song, maybe, but enough to show what he’s driving at.

And I like those woozy, drunken horns, too.

Charming Man said...

Totally unrelated to your post, but do you know who the three musicians with photos on the back of Helen of Troy are?

Inverarity said...

Jack: Thanks for the pro argument. I still listen to the album (until I'm done with this here project, at least ;), and I'll try to keep your ideas in mind.

I believe Chris Spedding (guitar), Tim Donald (drums), Pat Donaldson (bass). You never know with Cale, though.

Svenn said...

Must confess I like this CD too! I think it´s excellent Cale. But it´s a nice blog :-)

Anonymous said...

This made me chuckle. Another cliché: it's funny because its true!

Jaime Palha said...

Sterling died a year before and he divorced the following year. Perhaps he was disturbed by the death of his friend and a sinking marriage. 3/5 im my opinion. And a masterpiece, 'Secret corrida'.