Thursday, April 24, 2008

Been There, Done That

Whoa, not just uptempo but upbeat. I found the bubbliness of "Been There, Done That" off-putting on initial listens of Wrong Way Up, but the pure popness and charming personality of the song eventually won me over.

It helps that the extremely complex, contrapuntal arrangement, which feels like a wall of noise at first, resolves into a beautiful mosaic on further examination. The percussive bassline, the drip-drop electronic percussion, electric piano, lead and backing voices (etc. etc.) all intertwine with clean precision - there is no mush here whatsoever.

It also helps that Cale gives one of his most accomplished pop vocals. There doesn't seem to be much to the lyrics, but there's enough to evoke interesting thoughts and images. There seems to be Eno influence in the lyrics, but as I've said before, I just can't tell what's Cale and what's Eno on this album. All I know is that it's great stuff.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Soul of Patrick Leeeeeeeeee

Dammit, I'm going to finish at least one album here. Even if it means slogging through this crap. We'll never know why Cale felt the need to mess up a perfectly listenable (if at times rather unfocused and over-long) instrumental album by throwing on this Procol Harum-lite drivel. Don't look for that sort of penetrating insight here!

What I can do is point out, as anyone with ears could tell you, that getting this Adam Miller character to sing a Vintage Violence-style miniature was a bad idea. The lyrics to "The Soul of Patrick Lee" aren't awful - bloated and purple, I suppose, but maybe with a little Welsh tongue-roll it would be palatable. But the generic psychedelic pop vocal is so oily and bland. Not that Cale is your Dylan or your Young or your Lennon or your Cash, but his vocals aren't greasy.

The tune isn't terrible, the hilariously overloaded arrangement is entertaining, and the song is actually not offensive, but the vocal I cannot forgive. On an album of long-winded pseudo-prog, the 2m50s "Patrick Lee" is somewhat improbably the Church of Anthrax track that most overstays its welcome.


Sunday, April 6, 2008

Lay My Love

You know, the first time I put on Wrong Way Up, I wasn't much impressed. It sounded fairly staid, simple, uninteresting. I loved "Cordoba," sure, and liked "One Word" just fine. But starting with "Lay My Love," the album's simplicity was trancey, rather boring, and quite disappointing - it wasn't what I wanted from a dream-team pairing like John Cale and Brian Eno.

That's how I felt for quite some time. One by one, songs clicked (and this was one of the first), until I could comfortably call this one of my favorite Cale albums. And it's an album you can play for the less... adventurous listeners in your life, too - who'd have thought that the two weird guys from two really weird bands would come up with music that sounds so nice?

"Lay My Love" is a patently Enoid song, so I don't want to dwell too much on it. (I can't speak for you, but I've got to love a song whose first lyric is "I am the crow of desperation" and which goes on to anoint the narrator "the termite of temptation - I multiply and fly my population.") But Cale's viola contributions here really make the song, giving it a complexity of feeling that sustains an otherwise fairly uninteresting piece of music. Does it want to be frenetic? Does it want to be soothing? Does it want to be tense or comforting? It's up to the viola to keep all of those questions unanswerable.

(There's a live cover of the song by Poi Dog Pondering available on iTunes and elsewhere around the 'net - a great take and eminently worth a listen.)


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

John Cale

[Grab this rare non-album track in beautiful gimped 96kbps mono here! (This one will be up for a week or less, so do it fast.) The song's twists and turns are worth experiencing before you read about them.]

Hey let me tell you 'bout my dream
There isn't really much to tell
At first I'm playing in the Velvet Underground

In the same vein as "Autobiography" (better be careful about using the same vein twice!), John Cale's postmodern classic "John Cale" is an examination of conscience, an attempt to evaluate his art, his legacy, his public profile through the eyes of another. Like Autobiography, it puts a humorous and self-deprecating spin on things.

And now I'm on the West Coast all
Fucked up on heroin and speed
And then I'm riding in the back of someone's car
Lou Reed
Lou Re-e-e-e-e-ed

(Oh yeah, he went there!) Unlike "Autobiography," though, "John Cale" hearkens back to the pastoral instrumentation of Vintage Violence and the Brian Wilson melodies of his early career. It's a very capable pastiche of Cale's so-called classic period, and it's not unlikely that frustration with the overemphasis on that period leads to the cutting satire of the instrumentation: I mean, sleighbells?!

Nobody can take my dream away.
Nobody can take my dream away.
Nobody can take my dream away.
Away, away, away.

His ability to put himself, as a songwriter, outside himself and look back is stunning.

And then it's nighttime in New York
It's cold and I can see my breath
It's cold. I think I'll maybe stop in for a drink
to death
to dea-ea-ea-ea-ea-eath

Ah, the classic shocking John Cale ending. He can't be dead, 'cause he's singing the song, but he just killed off his fictional doppelgänger! Audacious and deeply amusing. He rubs in the postmodernism with a final smirking chorus - it was all a dream:

Nobody can take my dream away.
Nobody can take my dream away.
Nobody can take my dream away.
Nobody can take my dream away.
Away, away, away.

If you want a more listenable version, buy the full-quality version (which is actually written and performed by Don Lennon) for pocket change at Amazon MP3 or somewhere else. Laughter, after all, is priceless.