Monday, August 5, 2013

Album of the Week #3: August 5th, 2013

John Cale is most known for his work as a member of the Velvet Underground and producer who has worked with stars such as Patti Smith and Brian Eno.  A classically trained musician, once Cale no longer was part of VU, he began a solo career with the LP Vintage Violence, a sort-of homage to Americana coming from a British born artist.  This was followed by his most famous album, Paris 1919, which put him alongside unique songwriters of the day like Randy Newman.  Meanwhile, Cale had been producing stark records by former Velvets singer Nico and edgy legends like the Stooges and the Modern Lovers.  That sound finally spilled over into his own work on Fear, his first for Island Records in 1974, a year on from the previous LP.

Fear opens with the chugging title track in which Cale repeats "Fear is a man's best friend" like a mantra.  It's a statement of purpose that will carry Cale through all of his Island albums which follow.  Cale really lets go toward the end of the song where he begins shrieking over and over, showing a darker side that will also surface a bit in Patti Smith's Horses, which he was working on around the same time.  "Buffalo Ballet" follows as a bit of a throwback to his more western glancing material.  "Barracuda" (not the Heart song) and "Emily" follow with more of a quirky Roxy Music vibe (Phil Manzanera, Andy MacKay, and Brian Eno all guest on this album, as does Richard Thompson).  "Ship of Fools" with it's cascading piano melody is one of the cornerstones of the album, and predates Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom by a few years.

Side 2 (or part 2 if you have the CD), begins with the 8-minute rocker, "Gun", a song featuring an amazing dual guitar solo by Manzanera being shadowed (or messed up) on synthesizer by Eno. Eno and Cale would continue their working relationship on Cale's next couple of releases, and they would record the great collaborative duet album Wrong Way Up in 1990, the same year Cale would reunite with ex-Velvets Lou Reed for another collaborative album, Songs for Drella.  (Siouxsie and the Banshees liked "Gun" so much, they covered it on their Through the Looking Glass covers album, and then asked Cale to produce parts of their final studio record from 1994, The Rapture.)  The Beach Boys-esque lark "The Man Who Couldn't Afford to Orgy" comes next to lighten the mood considerably, followed by the stunning "You Know More Than I Know", another overlooked gem.  "Mommama Scuba" closes the album on a dark glam-rock note.

Fear was a turning point for Cale, and while struggles with substances have been somewhat documented, it is a leap of confidence into something new for him, becoming as interesting as the artists he was producing.  The next two Island albums, Slow Dazzle and Helen of Troy follow suit with the template Fear sets out with.  It's a remarkable body of work from an artist who tends to get marginalised compared to other 70's luminaries of the genre such as Bowie and Talking Heads.  Now in his 70's, Cale continues to experiment and grow as an artist, releasing last year's interesting Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood LP and the Extra Playful EP.  He refuses to retire or rest on his laurels, and Fear is a fantastic and somewhat overlooked rock record.

All of Cale's three Island solo releases plus his collaboration with classical artist Terry Riley (Church of Anthrax) have been recently remastered and reissued by the Culture Factory label.  Here's a short, fan-made version of a series of comic book covers to the song "Gun":

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