Tuesday, December 10, 2013

John Cale - Vintage Violence

It was probably mid-to-late 70's before I discovered Cale's solo work - a bit after I had heard the first couple of Velvet Underground albums that included Cale. While his solo albums don't contain the noisy abandon that appears on some of the Velvets' work, his songwriting is superb here and, although he apparently doesn't think much about this, his 1970 debut, there is a lot of variety and emotion.

The tunes here are generally melodic and straight-forward - at least compared to some of his other work. Not to say that they are light-weight - there are some terrific numbers here. "Hello There" is a true pop cut, while "Gideon's Bible" includes lush harmonies and a slide guitar mimicing string parts. "Adelaide" is almost goofily upbeat, with silly call-and-response vocals and peppy harmonica. He creates a string-laden pop ballad in "Big White Cloud" and "Cleo" is a organ-driven, light-hearted pop number with child-like female backing vocals. The first side of the vinyl closed on a more serious note with "Please", another ballad with almost a country feel in the slide work, though with enough of Cale's oddness to keep it from being too predictable.

"Charlemange" opens up side two with another quiet, but amazing, tune, with more slide/steel guitar work, and a wonderful melody and dramatic chorus. More upbeat, in a country-rock kinda way is "Bring It On Up", which will remind you of a number of other songs, though you might not be able to pin down any of them! One of my all-time favorite Cale songs is the gorgeous acoustic guitar ballad "Amsterdam" - truly a masterpiece of stripped-down songwriting - pretty much just John and his guitar (harmonizing with himself) in a incredibly emotional tale of love lost. Damn near brings me to tears every time I hear it. This is followed by another fantastic, organ-dominated, powerful, somewhat surrealistic heavier number in "Ghost Story" - another highlight of the record. This stops suddenly and leaps into an upbeat rocker, "Fairweather Friend", to close out the album.

This record probably came as a bit of surprise to Velvets fans as there is almost none of the dark, abstract noise that he contributed to that group, but this is a wonderful debut for Cale, the solo artist, who would continue to surprise and change, as his former comrade-in-music, Lou Reed, did.