Sunday, January 25, 2009

Everytime the Dogs Bark

So, as promised, next time. The official John Cale Sunday morning record, 1985's Artificial Intelligence, is led off by the song "Everytime the Dogs Bark" (referenced in a verse or two of 2005's blackAcetate's leadoff track Outta the Bag). It's the dawn of a new era in his career, and it shows in his songwriting.

The album, whose Lazarus "Ratso" Sloman-assisted composition should indicate debauchery and dissolution, is in fact something of a cleanup album. For all its anger and randomness there's a new self-consciousness and a desire to present some sort of respectable front to the world. I should really save this stuff for the post on "Song of the Valley," though. The leadoff track, then.

At first and several subsequent listens, it's a bit of a mess, sonically: artificial instrumental keyboard textures, weirdly processed guitar, and a sort of 80s-funk feel that might well be repulsive. Many people, in fact, do seem to find it repulsive. But not me. Partly because Cale's vocal is clean and strong and aggressive, no longer the overly affected vocal of Caribbean Sunset, trying too hard to reassert itself. Partly because I can't resist that opening lyric:

If you want to be the heart of midnight, you've gotta be either cynical or dead.
All those you hold in estimation no longer count among your friends.

The lyrics sort of meander from there, though, and I can't tell you what the hell the song's supposed to be about. But the money moment, the one that contributes the title to the song and provides that reference twenty years later, that's probably what really hooked me on the song:

Listen to the slamming doors
Listen to the ship-to-shore
Listen and listen hard
Everytime the dogs bark

The music there, keyboard chords like huge bells being struck and everything else falling silent, combined with Cale's vocal (touching the edge of danger and threat without going too far, without losing control), makes me think of some escaped and vengeful convict, hauling himself onto shore after an exhausting swim - an escape from an island prison - a pursuit of some black demon ship - I dunno. Some great, anachronistic, fantastical adventure out of Dumas or Alan Moore. It gives a context (or a Greek chorus?) to the disconnected verse lyrics that allows them to resonate better than they should - and played a big role, along with other songs on this album, in informing my understanding of Cale's view of his own career.

But let me put a word in for the music. Instrumentally, it's really not the genuine bad fake funk (rebadged disco?) of the 80s. It's something more respectable than that. (Hell, it's not far from "Outta the Bag" or even real Beck-funk.) The guitar work is really quite tasty. And I do have a thing for dirty, messy, noisy, artificial 80s keyboards. And this was one of the first Cale records I heard, after Fragments and Paris 1919 and the doom trilogy. So perhaps I am uniquely qualified to enjoy this track - but I hope not.

Further back up the chain of references: As I fell further into Cale-addiction, picking up the obscure and rare releases one by one off foreign web stores and eBay and less reputable sources, I snagged one particularly odd release. And when I got to the second track, one of the least in-control and respectable tracks on one of his least in-control and respectable albums, it struck me that this song referenced it. So maybe next time we'll visit that seedy and disreputable part of his career.


Ian said...

I certainly hope we will.

edgesofvision said...

Howdy R. P.

Thanks, and respect. Huge amount of satisfaction here reading you. It’s bliss to hear you enthuse over Artificial Intelligence as it happens to be one of my favourites for all the same reasons as yours. I love the ‘connections’ with this album – like, the James Young book – Nico: Songs They Never Play On The Radio – and lyric writing with Larry Sloman using Burroughs’s ‘cut-up’ technique, most apparent on the track ‘Everytime the Dogs Bark’. Even the artwork of Dennis Nechvatal lends itself. Look at his similar works here . . . (Haha! Am I a touch fanatical over this album?)

Artificial Intelligence (title changed from Black Rose) was put together in Graham “Dids” Dowdall’s music room at the back of his terraced-house in Balham, south London.

Reading from Nico: Songs They Never Play On The Radio . . .

>>> London – April 1985. John Cale plunged into Dids’s miniature elf’s lair in Balham. Overweight, overcoat, over here. Hiding his wild coke-stary eyes beneath scratched Wayfarers, covering his beer-barrel gut with a stained sweatshirt and a No-Smoking sticker. This was the man who’d directed the aesthetic of New York’s most stylish pop-group. Distanced now, by more than a decade, from the marketing genius of Warhol and the savvy of Reed, he’d had to take on the narcotic, alcoholic and physical abuse alone. Yet beneath the overcoat, the distended belly and the bloated ego you sensed there might still exist a good-looking, almost likeable, Welsh grammar-school boy on the make.<<<

And in the biography, Sedition & Alchemy by Tim Mitchell . . .

>>> On Artificial Intelligence, two pieces of image-laden life on the edge, ‘Everytime the Dogs Bark’ and the dynamic ‘Satellite Walk’, bookend a familiar mixture of angular approaches to love and political intrigue. There is also, however, further expression given to Cale’s longing for an end to the chaos in his life. This is particularly the case in the mournful and beautiful ‘Dying on the Vine’ and in ‘Song of the Valley’, and it is a yearning that fights against the rest of the material and signals the fact that the way he was living his life was going to change dramatically soon. <<<

On July 14th 1985 – Eden, John and Risé’s daughter was born.

Many thanks again R. P. I dunno what to say now. Feel kind of empty. Guess I’ll put the album on ;–))

edgesofvision said...

Sorry I made a mess of that URL. Nechvatal’s work can be seen under ‘artists’ at this gallery . . .

Anonymous said...

Great to see that there are still enthusiastic John Cale fans out there!! Not sure how many are left but the fact that Cale has not played live in North America since 2005 gives me worry that he has given up on U.S and Canada. Any word out there what he is up to. I understood a new album was on the way in early 2008 and have not heard anything since. There were only a small number of one-off shows in Europe last year….hopefully it’s not retirement.

Anonymous said...

Boy, I'm awfully sorry to be doing this this way, but hooked on phonics never worked for me and I don't understand your e-mail address at all, would you be interested in a cover version of John Cale's work I've found aggregated on the blogosphere? I've loved Cale for some time and happen to be fond of "Paris 1919" covered over at

they've got the spirit, it seems, and it's nice to be reminded of those songs. Haven't thought about them in so long.


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