Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Paris S'eveille

Paris awakens! But not to this music. The score to 'Paris S'eveille' is sleepy music, music to lull you back to sleep when you awaken in the early morning. Like the song goes, the newspapers are printed and the workers are depressed and it is your time to go to bed.

Immediately striking is the use of sound effects - rare in the Cale oeuvre. A rainstorm begins this one (I think the same that ends Fragments of a Cale Season), introducing a Soldier String Quartet mouvement. It takes a while to get going, but does a lot with the available voices, especially when the low strings speak up. There's almost a Low Side 2 feeling to it, though it never reaches those heights - though there's a bit in the bass that sounds just like "Subterraneans"...

Clattering delivery trucks open the second fragment, a synth-and-strings bit that I swear Cale reworked elsewhere. Very pensive and tense music that goes nowhere - music for the surgical waiting room. I don't mean that as an insult.

The third fragment, sans sfx, starts with synth xylophone and valueless drum machine wank before giving way entirely to the quartet. Cale's ubiquitous electric piano atonally interrupts their piece and starts a new piece in a different key entirely. An interesting effect, at least. Neither side will leave; they just keep going at their own things.

Street noise begins the fourth piece, which integrates synth and xylophone in a very soothing way, and even ends with birdsong and wind noise! Shades of Pink Floyd.

The final movement is a synth(-and-strings?) reprise of the waiting-room piece. It does more rhythmically than movement 2, but has less soul. It ends with the same rainfall it started with.

Like the movie it was written for, it's a minor work and nothing to get worked up over. Inspired? Not terribly (though the first movement is damn good). Pleasant? Sure. Granted, I don't listen to Cale for relaxation, but if I did I'd listen to this more often.

So the next time you find yourself singing

Il est cinq heures
Paris se lève
Il est cinq heures
Je n'ai pas sommeil

Put this one on and get some sleep.


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Taking Your Life in Your Hands

What a sound to hear when you put on a John Cale record. Some kind of electric organ, synthesizer stuff. Graceful, arcing, legato stuff. The music seems bashful, tender, maybe a little ashamed to be there. The bass figure that speaks up about a minute in sounds like it really has something to apologize for. Maybe Cale means this "New Society" thing? Maybe after the derangement of Sabotage, the further derangement of Honi Soit, the years of being off the rails, Cale is mellowing?

Except his voice isn't very warm. He's singing about children and their mother, and blue men in uniform, and tears in her eyes. That guitar stab isn't very warm or comforting. Dear me, he's back to his Riverbank vocal mode. And now it's the chorus. Hm, the title is taken from the chorus. "The children will always be there"? What's that supposed to mean. And now it's

Cancel the day, cancel the night.
Can't sell the day, can't sell the night.
'Cause who would be watching
when she steals and runs away
full of hysterical laughter to say
Mama, mama, I've left school today

So. "Taking Your Life in Your Hands" ushers in Music for a New Society, an anti-lullaby to open a rather nightmarish (but quiet!) album. It exhibits a main flaw of Cale's early-80s oeuvre: sloppy first-take-grade lyrics. But they sort of work here... "blue men in uniform" doesn't mean "men in blue uniforms," but it subtly exposes the fractures in the narration. Similarly, "I hope I get to see you in that funny school far away," a dull dead set of words as a lyric, does sort of convey that the perspective character is a young girl.

I seem to recall Cale saying that he didn't know what the song was about, specifically; that he liked the superposition of possible meanings just fine. There's the mentally-ill mother, the mentally-ill child; the runaway from a broken home; the suicide, the filicide, the spouse-murderer; and the interpretations go on. I like the ambiguity just fine; I pick a different one almost every time I listen, or just let my critical response drift among them. It's not the lyrics that make the song, or the music; it's how they interact. I can't weigh it or judge it, just feel it.