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John Cale - Hobo Sapiens CD (album) cover

HOBO SAPIENS

John Cale

 

Prog Related

4.01 | 13 ratings

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ExittheLemming
Prog Reviewer
4 stars John Cale is a f**king elitist. He did not like the people he was playing for. He's Welsh, and they're all nasty bastards (Nat Finkelstein)

Notwithstanding the repugnant racist bile of a bitchy little fag photographer poisoned by the pollutants from Andy Warhol's Junkie Factory, the tracers of paranoid disdain linger, like those 'stubborn hard to shift' stains on Cale's spattered hockey goaltender's mask. (he's always been a reluctant defender, resentful of his failure to cut it as an attacker) Deep at the heart of this ubermodernist iconoclast, there is a conservative nugget of kryptonite classicism, so wherever John negotiates to at any given time, he's slumming it and it's our fault see?.

The witty title is purportedly sourced from an article Cale wrote about Bob Dylan but there is scant evidence that the latter has any particular relevance to what's on offer here. We encounter instead, the recognizable tread of the Beta Band and the mosey of a Beck, but where the nostril hemorrhaging Grand Guignol of Sabotage or protopunk of Animal Justice are absent, supplanted instead by the heavily anchored claustrophobia of hip hop, mutated electronica and that mordant glacial baritone summoning forth ghosts that are reassuringly ancient but unnervingly close. The foregoing cannot be construed as Punk's absent godfather having necessarily mellowed, it's just he's always known aggression is unsustainable and like his acrimonious divorce from a chemical reality, subject to the law of diminishing returns. (or what the EMI suits would have equated to sales boyo) Jimmy Porter's 'angry young man' does not sit comfortably on the slumped shoulders of a 61 year old inebriated mental patient who no-one dares make eye contact with on the bus.

Crotchety living legend teams up with hot young producer for major label smasheroonie? Nope (Utah Saints be praised) Our aging hero has not leapt into the sack with a noughties Edie Sedgwick and can therefore still appreciate the irony of 'drop dead gorgeous' for several more years to come. In short: JC retains his dignity and doesn't make a complete a.r.s.e of himself using dance loops, layered beats, sequencers, sampling and the types of music technology traditionally the preserve of the re-cyclist of idea and stiff of finger.

Quite what EMI had in mind when they signed Cale to their roster for his first collection of songs in eight years is anyone's guess. The artist was living and recording in his basement Greenwich Village studio during this time yet his expectant paymasters neglected to give Hobosapiens, an American release. Cale bizarrely had no US label in 2003 so only very expensive imported versions were available until the OR imprint picked up the album - the latter put a bonus track thereon which can only be played on conventional CD players if you rewind past the start of track one (I've never heard this Set Me Free freebie and I don't even know if it exists on my review copy)

Well look up the country of issue on the CD you silly little rodent

Erm..it doesn't say or I can't find it, or it's too small to read...

Get yer eyes tested fleabag, it's probably a JJ Cale album yer looking at...jeez

What vestige of avant-garde remains in the Cale cookie-jar is strictly limited to the use of incongruity within pop music idioms e.g. layering two incompatible or contradictory beats together to arrive at an ambiguous poly-rhythm which threatens to undermine the incessant tyranny of the cyclic pulse (albeit he never actually allows this insurrection to succeed), or splicing a melodic theme prematurely into earlier 'foreign' harmonies within the same song (see Look Horizon where initial puzzling dissonance is uncloaked as the beautiful sci-fi ambiance of the closing fade - yet next time you hear the track the aforementioned frisson is somehow magically assuaged? Cale's being a clever bugger here, (you have to hear this to appreciate the phenomenon I've completely failed to describe adequately)

Long term ally Eno is referenced on the catchiest track on offer in the shape of Things re To assault Tiger Mountain when the sun comes up and we ain't exactly a million miles away from that feel here but the massive demarcation criteria being that Cale's delivery and lyrical imagery are so inimitable as to represent a tonsil textual brand. Based almost entirely on a two chord pivot that remains unaltered between verse and chorus (only Cale's masterful phrasing separates these as sections in our head) it's as spontaneously natural, laconic and effortlessly brilliant throughout as anything produced by his supposed peers Bowie and Reed. Trivia fans may source some succor that the line things to do in Denver when you're dead is NOT from the wretched Tarantino wannabe neo-noir film of the same name but the infinitely superior Warren Zevon song of the same name recorded in 1991

Having produced over 80 albums, and for some very 'difficult' artists like the Stooges, Patti Smith, Jonathan Richman, Nico, Happy Mondays and Nick Drake, it seems somewhat ironic that Cale has failed to realise for the longest time that the last person who should produce a John Cale record is John Cale. Throughout a very uneven career he has been conspicuously short of a trusted adjutant who could safely say ditch that John, it's a pile of incoherent lazy coke fuelled hippy wank. As a keen observer of the contemporary musical landscape and a big hip-hop fan, Cale would have identified Lemon Jelly's Nick Franglen as one of the 'go to guys' in the knob twiddling studio boffin stakes. The lush, clean and detailed nature of his production is distinctly at odds with the enduring grime aesthetic that still holds sway in indie/garage land reverence for all things VU related. I'm sure this must irritate Cale as he is on record as saying the lo-fi nature of the Velvets was never by design and they would have leapt at any opportunity to inhabit a higher fidelity realm.

Modus Operandi - Cale wrote all the songs in his basement studio in a matter of hours i.e. there was no premeditated baggage or relics long poured over in danger of becoming stale and he combines traditional acoustic sounds with imaginary (and maybe impossible) electronic ones. As ever, his viola is exquisitely lyrical and sparing where appropriate and utterly frenzied, diabolic and thoroughly violated at the extremities mirrored in these fantastic and disorienting audio collages. Such is the intricate layering at work here and the artificial spaces created in the sound picture, this is perhaps the antithesis of a 'performance' record but certainly does not suffer any loss of coherence as a result. The drum loops utilised for Zen are sourced from a Bernard Purdie recording (the drummer who claimed that Ringo never played a note of any Beatles records) Don't let that dissuade you as no-one is ever gonna sample anything north of Purdie's neck forever hence and the performance captured is uncannily apt for this track.

Letter from Abroad was inspired by a documentary about the Taliban in Afghanistan called 'Beneath the Veil' and Cale allegedly telephoned Bono (why, did he misdial?) for advice about the suitability of the subject matter In the light of the events of 9/11. John had misgivings about tackling such an emotive and recent tragedy but pressed ahead regardless. The creaking and rusted loop was provided by Eno but is sounds uncannily like a Beck outtake?

I had some great fun playing the instrumental portions of this album to those stubbornly pale homies at work who fancy themselves 'hip' to urban dance music and they all remarked without demur that this was 'dah bomb diggidy' - which I'm advised means 'thoroughly splendid', bordering on 'smashing' y'all.

Bicycle lets the tyres down somewhat, being but an 'intermediate' DAW tutorial in generic rawk beats underpinning a 4 note call and response nibbly morsel of negligible merit and it's the only track here that falls into the yawning trap of merely proving it would fall apart as a musical construct if removed from the rarefied sanctuary provided by Pro Tools. Anyone who has heard the excellent Fragments of a Rainy Season will be surprised that Cale is guilty of releasing a creation that fails to stand up to the litmus test of piano and vocal melody resilience. Similarly, Things X is a doomed exercise in how one sublime song with melody unaltered would sound like with completely random and unrelated chords underneath?. Answer: w.a.n.k.y. deconstructed s.h.i.t.e, which may have yielded the brilliant 'one-off' spookiness of Heartbreak Hotel but falls flat on it's concrete botoxed post modern backside here.

Twilight Zone starts like (gasp) Sinking by the Cure with its clattering dissonant shock piano chord which retreats to reveal a rather contrived structure albeit one with a redemptive hook as reward for our forbearance. It ain't bad but suffers from the very good company it rubs shoulders with.

There are loads of artists and writers referenced in Cale's output (but tellingly very few composers apart from Brian Wilson, Brahms and Rimsky Korsokov) and it seems transparent he considers himself worthy of consideration in the same breath as Picasso, Magritte, Hemingway, Burroughs, Dylan Thomas and Graham Greene. As much as I adore this contrary welsh alchemist, when pressed, I'm sure he would consider such chutzpah as all the proof that were needed for an admission that his potential went unfulfilled.

So lap this up Cale fans, as it's perhaps one of his strongest solo albums to date and its successor will have you unwittingly apeing one of the most terrifying audible artifacts in rock i.e. an inconsolable John Cale scream, being the only dignified response that the execrable Black Acetate deserves.

ExittheLemming | 4/5 |

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