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John Cale - Fear CD (album) cover


John Cale


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3.34 | 35 ratings

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4 stars You want to call this punk? No sirree Bob, it's a very different kettle of fish. But with this album, John Cale took the early 1970s singer-songwriter boom (ever so sensitive and clever) by the neck and beat it to a pulp, right in front of your eyes. The opening track, "Fear Is A Man's Best Friend" says it all. Aggressive, almost Lisztean piano chords make way for a melody so smooth you'd be forgiven for thinking you've stumbled upon quite a nice pop album, actually. But if you've learnt your rock history, you'll already be aware this song is going to end in a bout of panicky, barely coherent screaming. 'We're already dead, / just not yet in the ground', as its lyrics go.

Oh, if the entire album were as strong as its original A-side, I'd gladly call it another classic and award it five stars. For my money, Cale has never topped that magical sequence which runs from "Fear Is A Man's Best Friend" to "Buffalo Ballet" (a prime candidate for the loveliest melody he's written), "Barracuda" (that must be the great Archie Leggat on bass! Or is it Cale himself?) and "Ship Of Fools". The latter sounds like a track which accidentally fell off PARIS 1919. I'd definitely include it in any single-disc 'Best Of', but what's it about, really? 'We picked up Dracula in Memphis, / it was just about the break of day, / and then hastily prayed for our souls to be saved, / there was something in the air that made us kind of weary...' The way Cale sings these words is so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes (and to think there are people who can't stand his voice!) but surely it's magnificent nonsense poetry?

Unfortunately, even the A-side contains a dud: the Eno-influenced 'Emily', with Eno himself generating ocean waves in the background. 'Dare to be boring, dare to annoy people' is what Cale must have thought. On the original B-side, things get even worse. "The Man Who Couldn't Afford To Orgy" is superior pop, and "You Know More Than I Know" sounds gloriously sad, but the eight minute "Gun" is a totally forgettable rocker, Phil Manzanera's guitar solo firmly going nowhere, and "Momamma Scuba", the album closer, is annoying; nothing more.

So there we are: six tracks which, taken together, definitely warrant five stars, and another three that are little more than filler. If you don't own FEAR yet, I suggest you get it as part of the magnificent two-disc compilation THE ISLAND YEARS: remastered with bonus tracks, full colour booklet and all.

fuxi | 4/5 |


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