Friday, November 21, 2008

Sudden Death

Assassinations and societal upheaval in unspecified third world (?) countries are the order of the day in "Sudden Death," and no wonder. It's one of Cale's most outright political songs, and yet there's really no moral judgment happening: his most disgusted moment is when he seems to dismiss a murderous mob as amateurs. It's hard to get any sense of the narrator. The narrative voice is wry, detached, and more pitying than anything else. The result is an ambiguous, chiaroscuro lyric and one of the more haunting final tracks of any of Cale's albums.

What's most notable about the song is the way an astonishingly reportorial lyric is rendered elegantly in Cale's vocal. A line like, "UPI and Reuters were the first ones to the phone," does not deserve to work as well as it does - but then again I didn't parse the words for months of listening to it. There's a fatigue to the lyric that maybe captures the feeling of the mid-70s as well as anything else I've heard.

The slow and bassy music works well to match the lyric, though the echoed piano split at the wide edges of the stereo picture end up feeling unnervingly disco-ish. Lots of great viola and string work in general (not to mention bassoon!). It's a little turgid, I admit - I vacillate a bit on really how good it is. But it is certainly worth hearing.

Though Cale was not to record again for four years, 1979's Sabotage/Live picked up not far from where this track left off. Shame he never did this one live during those shows.


Dylan H. said...

Great song, nice summation. It would be pretty hard to replicate live, without turning it into grunge rock. I never thought 'disco'.

CVH said...
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Dylan H. said...

If you can't keep an open mind listening to John Cale, you may as well put on some Springsteen.