Sunday, May 10, 2009

John Cale - Sabotage (Live)

I have been a huge fan of Cale since the days of the Velvet Underground and think that his solo records have been consistently strong, though they vary from delicately beautiful to cataclysmically crazed. This live record (from CBGB’s in 1979) of otherwise unreleased songs is a mix of these two sides of the man under a vague theme of mercenary soldiers. I was able to see this tour at the legendary Whiskey-a-Go-Go and can attest to the potency of this man’s performance. (Though his solo show at McCabes with just him on just piano or guitar is one of the most intense live experiences I have ever had.)

This record is filled with dark rock’n’roll with Cale’s twisted leadership showing through in every song. The opening “Mercenaries (Ready for War)” begins with a distorted bass line (John plays some evil bass lines on some of the tunes, but I don’t believe that this is him here) and some psychotic guitar lines and yet still manages to be immensely catchy and invites you to sing-along with “ready for war”. The build-up behind the countdown to his bloodcurdling shriek of “visibility zero” is truly outstanding!

The electric piano that starts “Baby You Know” is very Cale-esque and this has more cool guitar as it creates a dark and paranoid rock’n’roll song. I am pretty certain that Cale has picked up the bass (in addition to band bassist George Scott) for the wild hard rock ride of “Evidence”. This is a heavy rocker with a superb riff that I apparently unconsciously stole a number of years back. Excellent!

“Dr. Mudd” is still upbeat though slightly less intense and with female back up vocals by the oddly named Deerfrance, who is (also oddly) uncredited on the CD sleeve and who has apparently also worked with Tom Verlaine. Lyrically this continues the war theme with references to Hiroshima and the effects of the bombing of that city. I’m fairly certain that Cale is taking the guitar solo on this one and it is wildly sick and very different in tone from Marc Aaron’s nicely demented playing throughout.

John is absolutely playing lead bass on the utterly bizarre (though still phenomenal) take on Rufus Thomas’ “Walkin’ the Dog”. Kinda similar in feel to his dark version of “Heartbreak Hotel” on Slow Dazzle. Continuing in a dramatic and bleak vein is “Captain Hook”. This is almost cinematic in its scope and the percussion and lovely vocals from Deerfrance adds a nicely desolate feel. Slow and moving and memorable. And I love the line “by hook or by crook I am the captain of this life”.

Deerfrance comes to the forefront for the delicate “Only Time Will Tell”, not dissimilar to one of Nico’s songs for the Velvets. Truly pretty and Cale plays some fine viola for coloring. A total change of pace follows with the cacophonous interaction of the title cut. I love this – it is so majestically perverse and noise-filled and yet is a superb song. Classic Cale at his best!

The closer for the album was “Chorale” which sounds almost like a militaristic anthem, with its melody lifted from some sort of national anthem, its concentration on keyboard and vocal harmonies, but with some contrasting noise, as well and the drums which come in with a distinctly military beat.

The bonus tracks here are from the Animal Justice EP. “Chickenshit” is a fairly solid rocker with some bits of conversation interspersed with John’s lyrics. Apparently this references a live show where Cale chopped up a live chicken with a meat cleaver and the conversation is supposedly people’s reaction to this.

John adds his personal touches to Chuck Berry’s “Memphis”, aided and abetted by Chris Spedding and his wild guitar. The strangely titled “Hedda Gabler” follows and is one of Cale’s bizarre story ballads. This is very stripped down, with bare piano chords, some guitar effects and wind noise until the band crashes in, but it maintains its dirge-like rhythm throughout as it builds through its changes. He is always so compelling that he can make this type of thing work, though and this is quite effective.

“Rosegarden Funeral of Sores” sounds like it was written for Bauhaus, who later covered it. This just shows who was the original goth master!

If you like your r’n’r dark, twisted and psychotic and don’t mind moving from sparse to wildly rockin’, definitely check out Cale’s solo work and this terrific album!