Thursday, October 27, 2011

John Cale - Fear

Lately, we've been listening to a lot more John Cale. A LOT more. Maybe it's the recent announcement of his new EP Extra Playful, or maybe it's just the fact that obsessions happen when they do, and this one is happening now. Regardless: it's time to share.

Cale is best known as a multi-instrumentalist and co-writer for the original lineup of the Velvet Underground, and no doubt, that's an incredible body of work. But even more incredible, frankly, is his run as a solo artist.  During the past 40 years, Cale has released a treasure trove of records that are some of the most rewarding experimental pop around. Some of his best known works (Paris 1919, for one) are somewhat part of the mainstream, but many of his most fantastic records (for some unknown reason) remain relegated to the worlds of collectors and enthusiasts. Case in point: 1974's Fear.

In one sense, Fear is pure, classic John Cale:  dark melancholy, experimental riffs, pop sensibility, and thorough experimentation all rolled into one. But somehow, it's also something more. Compared to his other records, Fear has a rawness and originality that is less trite and produced, but at the same time offers up a melancholy that is touching without going over the edge into the darkness. In short, the record is an expert balancing act of Cale's many artistic qualities.

To further add to the awesomeness, Fear is backed by an all-star band culled from Cale's peers. In addition to Cale's own masterful instrumentation (which is far reaching and diverse), he is joined by Eno, Phil Manzanera, and Richard Thompson to name a few. The band serves to further flesh out Cale's arrangements, and offers up a rock and roll record that still manages to be full of relevance and emotional honesty, coupled with a full dose of sonic experimentation.

John Cale can undoubtedly be difficult at times, and a large degree of this has to do with the fact that he is a man who operates in extremes.  At times, he can't always manage to reign in his experiments and impulses enough to make them accessible, and at others he is so poppy it becomes saccharine.  Granted, once they are breached, these records are well worth while, but getting there can be a long journey. Fear, by contrast, gives a tangible example of what happens when Cale manages to keep everything under close watch:  all of his strengths merge together, and create a record of undeniable greatness.