Wednesday, December 11, 2013

John Cale - Slow Dazzle

Possibly my favorite Cale solo album, Slow Dazzle came after Fear and before (just 8 months before!) Helen of Troy and has similarities to both, but is more of a pure (as much as Cale ever is) r'n'r album. Brian Eno and Phil Manzanera both makes appearances here again, as does Chris Spedding and the sound is consistently great.

It never really occurred to me that "Mr. Wilson" was a tribute to the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, as it is darker and more eccentric that any BB number, but once learning that, I can see some musical influences in the song - and Brian certainly has his darker side. "Taking It All Away" is a mid-tempo piano number, with a nice chorus buoyed by a female chorus that moves into one of the tougher songs here, the aptly-titled "Dirty Ass Rock'n'Roll" - not super heavy guitars, but cool licks, sliding bass, cool horn section and leering delivery. This is followed by what sounds like could have been a 70's Top Forty pop tune, "Darling I Need You", with its 50's styled r'n'r piano line and prominent horns - damn catchy! I was trying to think what "Rollaroll" sounded like and then Manzanera's guitar came in and yep, it is reminiscent of early Roxy Music - fantastic playing by Phil, too!

Side two of the vinyl album opens with one of the highlights of Cale's career - his heart-stopping, crazed cover of "Heartbreak Hotel". With its Psycho-sounding synth line, demented guitar lick, dirge-like pace, heavy rhythms and Cale's screams and shrieks, this would be appropriate in a horror movie, where the victim is "so lonely I could DIE". Breath-taking! Luckily, the mood lightens in "Ski Patrol", an upbeat, almost country-ish number that is followed by his mix of Roxy Music and David Bowie in "I'm Not the Loving Kind", an emotional, dramatic piece that is another stand-out here, for a very different reason than "Heartbreak Hotel"! Here John reveals - dare I say it - his sensitive side to great effect, with more terrific guitar playing - not sure if that's Spedding or Manzanera though. Something else I always missed was the opening line to "Guts": "the bugger in the short sleeves fucked my wife" - a reference to an affair that Kevin Ayers had with John's spouse right before their June 1, 1974 concert. Obviously, this is another emotionally charged song, with plenty of barely-suppressed anger and power. Excellent. The record closed with a Cale monologue set to ambient noise, "The Jeweler", which, of course, makes one think of "the Gift" on White Light/White Heat. Nicely demented, as only Cale can be.

While there are parts that might be difficult for those not well-versed in Cale's legacy, I think that overall this is one of his more accessible records, since there is heavy rock as well as pop, noise and prose.