Sunday, September 29, 2013

Hungry for Love

Caribbean Sunset is another contender for "strangest album". Despite the Jimmy Buffettesque name and hilariously 80s cover (dig that coffee-package album logo, that colorful sweatshirt, and the blue skies reflected in his shades!), the 1984 album is aggressive, angry, and rather bonkers, much like its predecessor Honi Soit. (How Music for a New Society was born between the two is beyond me.) As on HS, the songs are angry and threatening even when (I think) they're trying to be upbeat.

Caribbean Sunset also fits neatly into the possibly nonexistent category of music known as "Spy Rock", described very memorably (though I think much too loosely) at John Hodgman's and Jonathan Coulton's Little Grey Book Lecture Series by a gentleman named David Guion. (Listen to podcast number 2 here. I promise it's worth the time.) Despite earlier ventures into the pseudo-genre ("Sudden Death", "Leaving It Up to You", "Fear", maybe even "Endless Plain of Fortune" or "Ghost Story"), Cale's work really swung that way in the Reagan years. From his live shows in '78 all the way through Artificial Intelligence, you can practically smell Foreign Affairs on his breath.

I haven't decided yet whether or not this anger and menace is a liability. Album opener "Hungry for Love" is a rather slight thing, an exhortation to, um, love more...? Specifically, to love Mr. Cale more. He promises to reciprocate. But the arrangement and especially the vocal delivery make me wonder; listening to his performance feels like being browbeaten, not seduced or consoled.

Especially on the bridges. "You can walk on water 'cause you're feeling strong. You can walk, you can walk on water. That's what women know!" is one. "You can see the writing, it's on the wall. You can see the writing, it's ten foot tall!" is the other. I don't hear anything but anger and resentment in the vocals. "Writing on the wall" is, from its biblical origins to the present day, not really a good sign.

The band sounds good, though very straitlaced slightly-punky conventional rock. The composition is rather catchy, with a mirrored piano figure as the main hook. It doesn't suffer horribly from digital recording. It's maybe a bit compressed, but maybe that's an artifact of the vinyl rip I have. The dissonant piano and the one-note guitar solo near the end add even more tension and fear to this romantic little ditty, so it's not just the vocal. There's an unusual accent in the backing vocals on the coda... that couldn't be Nico, could it?

There's just an irresolvable tension between what the song claims to be and what the band actually recorded. But, you know, it actually makes for more interesting listening.

Here's a well-made cover of the song that delivers more accurately on the emotions promised by the song's lyrics and melody. Do you think it's better?

1 comment:

JG Ballard said...

The bigger question is - when in the world is this album, and Comes Alive, going to reach CD?!?!