Tuesday, December 4, 2007


"What do you think is going on here?" the old man said from his chair.
"D'you think this is anything new? Now look here, son. This is just like
it was back in the old days before the last war. Then the politics
changed, the scene rearranged and became how we know now is quo.
Oh, yeah, there were times when everyone smiled and agreed and the
good times would roll, but a heartbeat away was the crime that did
pay - the shot that was heard around the world."

"But nevertheless, there ain't no money," said the kid.

Ah, the magic of collaboration. You take a spoken and entirely un-Cale rant about intergenerational differences, anti-futurism, world war and global change, slam it into a reggae-ish music (with harmonica!), and have a five word chorus come in now and again, and you get the improbably lovable "Secrets." In fact, "improbably lovable" is how I feel about the lumpy, extremely imperfect Last Day on Earth in general - it's not great, but it's charming, absolutely unique, and something only a collaboration this weird could accomplish.

Often nonsensical, often funny, mixing cliche with potent images, Bob Neuwirth is in raconteur mode here. I don't know much about him, except that he recorded a number of albums and was part of Bob Dylan's long-term coterie. But with the sharp and self-deprecating DIY aesthetic he shows on this album, I feel I should find out more. It's odd that he sounds so much like Bob Newhart, though - whom I can't help imagine delivering this rant.

Neuwirth and John Cale provide the chorus vocals, singing the sweet but prickly chorus: "Secrets, secrets, dirty little secrets." I don't know how much input Cale had on the music here - it sounds like him on (terribly outdated) synth keys, but it's not exactly characteristic. In any case, it works with Neuwirth's clipped diction to provide some syncopated appeal. There's not much really that stands out - the guitar tone is nice, and harmonica! on the coda, but otherwise it's more than the sum of the instruments.

The fast patter, the repetition of the chorus verse, the repeated objection by the kid that "there ain't no money" have an incantatory effect that build up over time. I think I didn't much like this track the first time I heard it, but the "Secrets, secrets" bit got stuck in my head anyway - possibly after one listen. It still pops in frequently. Often too (too often, say those in the know) I can't resist quoting "'But nevertheless, there ain't no money,' said the kid" at moments of varying appropriateness around the house and town.

Here's an mp3. I'd really like to know what you (yes, you!) make of this oddity. Try to hear past the sickly synth tone and the prissy production job, if you can.


Jack Feerick said...

Oh, sweet Jesus. I had to turn it off after 90 seconds. It sounded like nothing so much as a lesser Stan Ridgway solo track.

Anonymous said...

As much as I like even the most obscure Cale music, I must put this one is the non-listenable category. The CIA should use this song (and much of “The Last Day on Earth” for that matter) as an interrogation tactic. The thought of this song being played over and over would cause even the most hardened terrorist to break. How this ever saw the light of day is amazing. The only tracks worth salvaging (in my opinion) are “Broken Hearts” and the completely instrumental track (#10) that would seem to fit better on the Paris S’eveille Soundtrack. Ocean Life and Old China are not too bad but the rest of the album is probably the worst stuff Cale has ever released.

Inverarity said...

Aww. "Paradise Nevada" is a fun little tune. "Streets Come Alive," adult contemporary production aside, is enjoyable. "Angel of Death" is top-quality, beautiful, unimpeachable. It's a shame the album starts with such awful stuff or else people might give it more of a chance.

And, hey. I listened to this track dozens of times in preparation to writing that post. Then again "music for interrogations" is practically my specialty...

Anonymous said...

Ok, I stand corrected. I missed “Angel of Death” which probably is the standout track on the album. However, before I could listen to it, I needed to use some music editing software to eliminate the first three seconds of the song. I can’t bear to hear “sushi for Shabu” when “Angel of Death” begins. The song is superb without the sushi intro!

Anonymous said...

And by the way, you deserve a medal for listening to “Secrets” dozens of times for your post. You might actually have the world’s record for most listens to this song. I can’t imagine anyone else on the planet has been able to get through it more than a handful of times. Great job with your posts. Many are fascinating