Monday, September 10, 2007

Mary Lou

Record labels add a smidgen of unreleased material to compilation albums to get die-hard fans to buy in. This has been going on for quite some time. John Cale's infamous collection Guts, which introduced hockey mask chic and Helen of Troy outtake "Mary Lou" to the world, was something of an exception, though: Island Records, you see, hadn't issued Helen of Troy in North America, and put this out by way of apology.

It's a very bizarre album, a sort of Songs in the Key of Death: side one is led off by the title track, from Slow Dazzle; then "Mary Lou" and three of the more raucous songs from Helen ("Helen of Troy" itself, Modern Lovers cover "Pablo Picasso", "Leaving It Up to You" - yep, it's back!); Fear tracks "Fear (Is a Man's Best Friend)" and "Gun"; and Slow Dazzle rave-ups "Dirty Ass Rock'n'Roll" and "Heartbreak Hotel." Now, I'd have put "Cable Hogue" on there instead of Helen, myself, but it's a pretty decent selection of the bloodiest tracks of the Island trilogy.

"Mary Lou", like Pablo and Dirty-Ass Rock'n'Roll, is on the album as leavening. Oh, it sounds threatening, but the lyrics are an innocuous and insubstantial imitation of Dylan's "Maggie's Farm." Mary, mother, brother, father, check. Though her father being in the government and not knowing the difference between right and wrong doesn't sound so innocent.

The woo-woo girls start the song out with threatening "oohs" that would pop up in a much less restrained and irritating version in the far future. Cale's vocal is pretty aggressive, especially on the chorus, and he throws in a scream or two for good measure. His screams don't really seem justified by the song's feel, but, hey. The guitar is choppy and pleasant, sort of reminiscent of "Pablo Picasso."

(In fact, very reminiscent of Pablo Picasso, which Cale did with this in a medley as the closer track on this year's Circus Live. "Mary Lou," slight as it is, did better in the medley than it does alone. They have the same turgid feel as all the other rock tracks on the album, but it's a fun pairing anyway.)

I don't agree with Robert Christgau that "Mary Lou" drags down the compilation, but it's not a track I crave hearing very often. It's just sort of there. However, it did lead to something stranger, scarier, and more substantial. Which is what we'll look at next time.

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