Author Topic: John Cale  (Read 774 times)

John Cale
« on: July 12, 2019, 04:04:24 PM »
I've already said lots about him on here, but it's time to do the actual thread.

So John Cale, he was in the Velvet Underground so he's not exactly obscure but he is underappreciated. His stuff has more resonance to me that Lou Reed's solo stuff, and the first time I heard it I was amazed to find someone who was a mix of Wild West ballads, protopunk, the Beach Boys, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Roxy Music, basically all the good shit. So I'm going to make a 'case' for John Cale as someone you should love too

First solo album is Vintage Violence, an odd mix of uptempo country and beautiful ballads with beautiful choruses. Cale claimed that he was a essentially just playing a role here, feeling out the space as he was figuring out what kind of songwriter he was. But the results of this are very good, with moments like the chorus of 'Gideon's Bible' and the coda of 'Ghost Story' standing among the best moments in his catalogue. The album seems to take place in a strange world, a sort of European version of the Wild West with a bit of a Borgesian twist in there. It's a great album in its own way, and probably deserved more attention at the time.

Secondly, The Church of Anthrax, a collaboration with Terry Riley that is the closest thing to a prog album that we've gotten from Cale. Some interesting tracks that clearly have an ear turned towards Krautrock, and well worth a listen to hear two great musical minds battling each other and making sparks fly. Then we have The Academy in Peril, a real mixed bag featuring strange orchestral pieces with occasional rock instrumentation and solo piano pieces that show that Cale leans towards the spacious and gloomy. There's a track called 'King Harry' in which Cale taunts the titular character in a vicious whisper that is chilling in the best way.

A return to more straightforward singer-songwriting with Paris 1919, obviously his most famous solo album and a great great record, wonderfully arranged and orchestrated with consistently top notch songwriting. 'Antarctica Starts Here' is the the sleeper favourite, a brilliant portrait of loneliness and decay. Interesting as well for being as uncharacteristic of his output as Vintage Violence, he wouldn't find his definitive voice until he joined up with Island Records.

Which brings us to Fear. If you haven't heard it, listen to it. Very possibly the best Velvet Underground solo album, and one of the very best and most interesting 70's rock records. It absolutely should be on more 'great album' lists and it's tragic that it isn't. It's beautiful, vibrant, tortured, melancholic, exuberantly odd. Shows off the many sides of Cale at a peak. The second Island record is Slow Dazzle is a somewhat more straightforwardly 'Rock 'n' Roll' album but not really, it's still achingly eccentric in the best way. It's vicious and it fucking rocks, Cale sings like an absolute maniac all the way through and it's gotten me through many a dark night.

Last Island record is Helen of Troy, released unfinished but contains some of the scariest music Cale ever made. Genuinely anguished in a way that's quite difficult to listen to, but retains some of that 70's rock and roll swagger. When the two are combined, like in 'Leaving It Up To You', you get something incredible.

Dropped from Island, he would now work for various smaller record labels, making an EP called Animal Justice in 1977 which contains the song 'Hedda Gabbler', a severely underrated ballad about god knows what, it's just atmospheric and awesome. Then came Sabotage/Live a slashing and embattled live record, which has such a thick sense of apocalyptic fervour that you can smell the smoke in the room. The title track sums up the feeling very well. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues compiles recordings from the same era, and has some of the most vital music Cale ever made, including a definitive live version of 'Helen of Troy'.

The 80s begin with Honi Soit which has a 'more commercial' production but still manages to be one of his most unhinged records. Sometimes just a series of vaguely murderous rants with the band pulsing behind him, it's as fascinating as anything else he's ever done. Then we have Music for a New Society, a project that resembles his instrumental work for Nico's albums, a sparse, haunted album that feels like a comedown and a dead end. It's excellent though, maybe his best and most personal album, there's maybe nothing else like it, which is a bit of a relief.

And then the 'golden period' is kind of over. Caribbean Sunset is the last of the psychotic guitar-driven Cale, but feels very burned out and directionless. The title track is very good, and he redeemed some of the other material in live performances, but we're a long way from the inspired mayhem of the Island records. There was also a pretty disposable live album in Comes Alive where the new studio material that bookends the album is absolute garbage, but it contains some agreeably bloody performance of 'I'm Waiting For the Man' and 'Fear is a Man's Best Friend'. Artificial Intelligence is very poorly arranged and is oddly musically inert, and is a pretty sad ending to the first part of Cale's career. Sobriety, soundtrack work and temporary retirement would beckon.

Returns in '89 with Words For the Dying a full on classical work containing orchestrations of Dylan Thomas poems. It's interesting but I can't say I listen to it that much. The 'Falklands Suite' would be better performed on solo piano on later live records. A collaboration with Brian Eno followed Wrong Way Up which marked Eno's return to the territory of Before and After Science, and despite the vocals being split 50/50 it does feel like Cale plays second fiddle. Still, it is a gorgeous pop album and a bit of an unsung gem. Followed by the more well known Songs For Drella which is a very special and very moving album. Cale only takes lead vocal on 1/3 of the songs, but one of them, 'Style It Takes', is as lovely as any Paris 1919 ballad. Pretty much a perfect record.

Then there's a definitive live record in Fragments of a Rainy Season, featuring a Cale on solo piano and guitar singing his best and more melodic songs. Probably one of his best albums, displaying an improvement in his vocal ability that really makes these reinterpretations feel fresh. Played this one to death, it displays the breadth of his songwriting ability extremely well. So after that Last Day on Earth, with Bob Neuwirth, a soundtrack to a non-existent musical in a fictional kind of modern day wild west. Must admit that I've never quite got to grips with it, it's definitely an odd and quite low key record that rewards close attention, but Neuwirth's shonky vocals and the dated keyboard sound make it more challenging than it needs to be.

A full-on return to solo rock album with Walking On Locusts, which seems very tired and uninspired. 'Dancing Undercover' is jaunty enough, and 'Set Me Free' is nice, if a little unexceptional. Another long period of soundtrack work followed.

Major comeback with the 5 Tracks EP and HoboSapiens, a dense and extremely textured and mysterious record that only reveals its secrets afters repeated listens. Cale fully had his mojo back with this one, writing the most accomplished lyrics of his career and at the peak of his arranging powers. blackAcetate was a quick follow-up, more of a garage rock record but almost equally good.

Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood is a full embracing of hip-hop style production, but it feels like a bit of a misfire, the compositions get lost under various tricks. The Extra Playful EP that preceded it is actually a better listen. Only a few moments of humanity. 2016's M:FANS is much better, a full rearrangement of the Music for a New Society album which manages to retain the emotional rawness even with more fully worked out production. It seemed to display the experiments of Nookie Wood paying off. He's an extraordinary live act at the moment, even at 77, and continues to be playful and, obviously, completely mental.

I can't write well enough to do him justice, the better records speak for themselves.

What's your favourite Cale, when did you discover his solo stuff, let's talk about this fucking crazy welsh legend

Re: John Cale
« Reply #1 on: July 12, 2019, 04:36:28 PM »
That's a great post and I agree with pretty much every word. To the point that I can't think of much else to add, despite my ever-increasing fondness for the Caleologue. I mean, I love and respect Lou Reed and will to my dying day, but John's solo career is so much better than his ex-colleague's, it's embarrassing.

grassbath

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Re: John Cale
« Reply #2 on: July 12, 2019, 04:46:30 PM »
I love, love, love Paris 1919 - essential Christmas listening - but could never bother my arse to go any further, so many karma for this post. I will check out Fear next, and the rest that you've acclaimed. I've always found Reed's solo career pretty half-baked and mediocre for the most part so maybe I unfairly assumed the same of his bandmate's.

wosl

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Re: John Cale
« Reply #3 on: July 12, 2019, 04:49:30 PM »
Fear. If you haven't heard it, listen to it. Very possibly the best Velvet Underground solo album, and one of the very best and most interesting 70's rock records. It absolutely should be on more 'great album' lists and it's tragic that it isn't.

Great album, containing the desert island selections Ship Of Fools (arguably his best solo song) and You Know More Than I Know.  However, I think a couple of tracks on there are bested by versions he did for a Peel session: You Know More Than I Know (the chorus on the Peel has more life to it than the album version), and, especially, a loose and raw take of Fear (Is A Man's Best Friend), which climaxes with Cale dishing up some primal scream howls.  My fave album of his is, unsurprisingly, Paris 1919; superbly engaging and evocative from beginning to end. Vintage Violence or Music For A New Society would be next.

Sin Agog

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Re: John Cale
« Reply #4 on: July 12, 2019, 04:57:18 PM »
That Island comp of his three albums for them was a bit of an eye-opener.  I might have dismissed Dazzle and Helen as a kind of Al Stewarty bit of mid-'70s fence-sitting had Fear not been among them, but Fear made me listen to them a little harder and they're both quite good.  Sabotage is my most revisited album by him, mostly 'cause I keep on getting a major yen for Only
Time Will Tell, which is the kind of vulnerable piece of gossamer beauty, along with Candy and Stephanie Says, that only cynical gets burnt out on their own cynicism can write.  Love the album conversation he and Lou were having at this stage of their careers, as Reed's Street Hassle is my favourite of his with its petulant, totally problematic bubblegum (under a desk) version of punk.

Re: John Cale
« Reply #5 on: July 12, 2019, 05:00:59 PM »
Was going to share a track but forgot, this recently unearthed recording of 'Thoughtless Kind', one of his best moments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTuz0b2kDDI

Re: John Cale
« Reply #6 on: July 12, 2019, 05:06:09 PM »
However, I think a couple of tracks on there are bested by versions he did for a Peel session: You Know More Than I Know (the chorus on the Peel has more life to it than the album version), and, especially, a loose and raw take of Fear (Is A Man's Best Friend), which climaxes with Cale dishing up some primal scream howls.

Very true, that Peel session is excellent.

That Island comp of his three albums for them was a bit of an eye-opener.  I might have dismissed Dazzle and Helen as a kind of Al Stewarty bit of mid-'70s fence-sitting had Fear not been among them, but Fear made me listen to them a little harder and they're both quite good.

I didn't get on with Helen of Troy for ages and ages

NoSleep

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Re: John Cale
« Reply #7 on: July 12, 2019, 05:06:17 PM »
Quote
Dropped from Island, he would now work for various smaller record labels, making an EP called Animal Justice in 1977 which contains the song 'Hedda Gabbler', a severely underrated ballad about god knows what, it's just atmospheric and awesome. Then came Sabotage/Live a slashing and embattled live record, which has such a thick sense of apocalyptic fervour that you can smell the smoke in the room. The title track sums up the feeling very well.

Hedda Gabler is about the Ibsen play of the same name.
There was a studio version of Mercenaries came out as a 7" just a bit before the live album came out. Both were released on Spy Records; his own label (the label on the records was his eye from the front cover of Fear). Looks like the other things that came out on the label were all productions of his. I have a copy of the EP by Harry Toledo & The Rockets (produced by Cale) which are the only extant tracks by the band apart from Knots on the 1976 Max's Kansas City compilation and a single under the (group?) name Toledo.

There's some controversy between the participants (I think mostly La Monte Young & Tony Conrad) in the early recordings (1965) of of the "Dream Syndicate" over their authorship and sound quality (Young claims he is the composer and that the version that was released are rough recordings where the musicians don't even properly play all the way through - Conrad claims they are improvisations and that they are all the composers).

Re: John Cale
« Reply #8 on: July 12, 2019, 05:07:37 PM »
Hedda Gabler is about the Ibsen play of the same name.

Including the ruminations about the fate of 1930s Germany? I don't think so. It shares a title but that's it. Cale once claimed it was about Anita Bryant

(the label on the records was his eye from the front cover of Fear).

That's so fucking cool, I had no idea
« Last Edit: July 12, 2019, 05:25:24 PM by Monsieur Verdoux »

Sin Agog

  • Dogs fucked the pope; no fault of mine
Re: John Cale
« Reply #9 on: July 12, 2019, 05:11:30 PM »
First thing I ever uploaded to youtube was a John Cale Modern Classical cut called A Midnight Rain of Green Wrens at the World's Tallest Building (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ERddQIl_C3I).  Dunno why.  Have a vague memory of getting into an argument with someone about how he wasn't just a chancer when it came to modern classical shit. ("The trouble with a classicist is when he sees a tree, that's all he sees, he paints a tree.")

Sin Agog

  • Dogs fucked the pope; no fault of mine
Re: John Cale
« Reply #10 on: July 12, 2019, 05:13:29 PM »
Also, sexy pre-V.U. John Cale on some corny American game show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mqO-xsRyTM

Re: John Cale
« Reply #11 on: July 12, 2019, 05:20:30 PM »
It should (?) be noted that, no matter how fond I am of Metal Machine Music, our Welsh friend got there first...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoSGrMAaD4M

Re: John Cale
« Reply #12 on: July 12, 2019, 05:21:55 PM »
This one also feels very ahead of its time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_FkQdN4M4g

NoSleep

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Re: John Cale
« Reply #13 on: July 12, 2019, 06:02:01 PM »
Including the ruminations about the fate of 1930s Germany? I don't think so. It shares a title but that's it. Cale once claimed it was about Anita Bryant

Not really ruminations so much as somebody reading a book on the subject; or being like somebody reading that book.

Re: John Cale
« Reply #14 on: July 12, 2019, 06:04:33 PM »
In 1891? Come off it, it's not about the Ibsen play. It's deliberately spelt differently on the sleeve, for one thing. Mother married to the bank manager, hung him in the closet, etc. I don't know if you've seen/read the play but that doesn't feature

NoSleep

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Re: John Cale
« Reply #15 on: July 12, 2019, 06:14:32 PM »
There's a couple of metaphors; like her mother, like her brother, etc. Could well be somebody else, just using the play as another metaphor, as Hedda isn't married to a bank manager who she hung in the closet for fun, but she does have an empty marriage.

Re: John Cale
« Reply #16 on: July 12, 2019, 06:16:10 PM »
I think that's pretty much it, he uses the character of Hedda Gabler from the play to enact a metaphor about somebody else, but he doesn't use any material from the play

Re: John Cale
« Reply #17 on: July 13, 2019, 01:59:43 AM »
Who?

Re: John Cale
« Reply #18 on: July 13, 2019, 03:52:42 AM »
There was a studio version of Mercenaries came out as a 7" just a bit before the live album came out.

Think I preffer that to the live Sabotage version, more intensity to it, especially at the end...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-p8XZw_StQ

If you've only listened to Paris 1919 previously I'd definitely give Fear a try, stuff like Buffalo Ballet, Ship of Fools and You Know More Than I Know isn't a million miles from the previous album in style, a lot of the rest is much harsher but more stripped down than the following two albums.

Re: John Cale
« Reply #19 on: July 13, 2019, 01:13:21 PM »
He also had incredible stage gear at one time


Re: John Cale
« Reply #20 on: July 16, 2019, 02:25:39 PM »
The Velvet Underground are one of the those bands I could never quite get on with, beyond a few of the more obvious songs ('Sweet Jane' and such) - I put that down to Lou Reed as I've never really dug his solo stuff either.

However, I read an article/interview on Cale in Uncut maybe 20 years ago that stayed with me, and I've picked up a few of his albums over the years and enjoyed them - 'Ship of Fools' is a long-time favourite and 'Fear is a Man's Best Friend' is kind of like how I wish Nick Cave sounded. And I bought "Music for New Society" today on the back of reading this thread.

NoSleep

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Re: John Cale
« Reply #21 on: July 16, 2019, 02:32:38 PM »
But was Reed a chicken-murderer?

Johnboy

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Re: John Cale
« Reply #22 on: July 16, 2019, 02:37:51 PM »
Just listened to Fear the other night - a favourite.

must check out blackAcetate

Re: John Cale
« Reply #23 on: July 16, 2019, 03:43:19 PM »
OR-GEY

gilbertharding

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Re: John Cale
« Reply #24 on: July 16, 2019, 04:49:25 PM »
I really should try to listen to more of his stuff.

I saw him at the Festival Hall in about '92, knowing nothing about him save for the Velvet Underground stuff. I bought a cassette after the show which seemed to be new out, and contained most of the songs he performed that night, solo and 'unplugged', as we used to say then (google says it was Fragments of a Rainy Season).

I enjoyed the gig and all... but it didn't set me on fire. I felt as if I'd eaten something very wholesome and good for me, but with little discernible flavour.

Sin Agog

  • Dogs fucked the pope; no fault of mine
Re: John Cale
« Reply #25 on: July 16, 2019, 04:52:17 PM »
The Velvet Underground are one of the those bands I could never quite get on with, beyond a few of the more obvious songs ('Sweet Jane' and such) - I put that down to Lou Reed as I've never really dug his solo stuff either.

However, I read an article/interview on Cale in Uncut maybe 20 years ago that stayed with me, and I've picked up a few of his albums over the years and enjoyed them - 'Ship of Fools' is a long-time favourite and 'Fear is a Man's Best Friend' is kind of like how I wish Nick Cave sounded. And I bought "Music for New Society" today on the back of reading this thread.

Which V.U. did you try to get into?  Their third one is easily their best, with Reed doing a sensitive journalistic approach to songwriting, and inventing gentle, twee aesthetics at the same time.  I usually improve it by sprinkling in a few songs from their abandoned earlier attempt at that style (with Cale just about still in tow).  Stephanie Says is one of their best ever songs.

chveik

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Re: John Cale
« Reply #26 on: July 16, 2019, 05:17:39 PM »
Which V.U. did you try to get into?  Their third one is easily their best, with Reed doing a sensitive journalistic approach to songwriting, and inventing gentle, twee aesthetics at the same time.


MATE are you high on aliens dmt

Re: John Cale
« Reply #27 on: July 16, 2019, 05:21:23 PM »
I was gonna say, what the fuck

Re: John Cale
« Reply #28 on: July 16, 2019, 05:27:28 PM »
Which V.U. did you try to get into?  Their third one is easily their best, with Reed doing a sensitive journalistic approach to songwriting, and inventing gentle, twee aesthetics at the same time.  I usually improve it by sprinkling in a few songs from their abandoned earlier attempt at that style (with Cale just about still in tow).  Stephanie Says is one of their best ever songs.
I've listened to all of them bar 'Squeeze'. It's not that I dislike their stuff, just that it doesn't click with me beyond a few numbers - 'Pale Blue Eyes' from the third album I certainly like, for instance. Same as Reed's solo stuff - the few tracks I would revisit would be from 'Transformer', and I always rationalised that as being the Ronson/Bowie aspect.

wosl

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Re: John Cale
« Reply #29 on: July 16, 2019, 06:49:57 PM »
[The] third [Velvets album] is easily their best

I don't consider that an outrageous claim.  The debut album hasn't aged well; White Light.. has got some brilliant things on it, but then you remember that Lady Godiva's Operation is on there to stink things up, and The Gift, which is a bit silly, so it's probably between 'Self-Titled' and Loaded.  'Self-Titled' has their most sheerly exhilarating song, What Goes On, on it, but it begins to conk out by the middle of side two.  I think Loaded's their finest, most consistent effort.  If Ocean and Lisa Says had been in the running for 'Self-Titled' as replacements for Murder Mystery and After Hours, then it might've pipped Loaded; Loaded remains a great album right the way through despite Ocean or Lisa Says not being on it (the VU version of Ocean is a great, great track).