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John Cale - Paris 1919 CD (album) cover

PARIS 1919

John Cale

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4 stars First of all, it's great to see John Cale included in the Prog Archives. An astonishing figure, comparable to the likes of Brian Eno or Robert Wyatt, Cale and his work are notable for their constant innovation, moving in and out of familiar terrains but always leaving those terrains forever changed in his wake. In a vein all his own, Cale has merged popular forms with the spirit of the avant-garde.

"Paris, 1919" is a remarkable album and a deceptive one at that. In many ways, it's an easy album to start with if you haven't heard much of his solo material, since it doesn't feel as immediately transgressive or experimental as many of Cale's other works. In fact, this is meant, in many ways, to be his "pop" album, and there really are a number of catchy moments, starting right away with the opener, "Child's Christmas in Wales." Still, this song, with its nod to fellow south Walian, Dylan Thomas, along with "Macbeth" and "Graham Greene" point to the hyper-literary subcurrents that inform the album, and which indicate that something deeper is going on here. Lyrically, things get strange, dark and perturbing.

This is an extremely beautiful album, yet, by the end of the experience, there's something deeply unsettling about the quality of its beauty, as well. A song like "Hanky Panky Nohow" embodies this uneasy beauty well, as the strings emphasize a deep melancholy, reminding me at least of that same chilling use of strings that can be found on Big Star's truly brilliant "Third/Sister Lovers." This feeling carries over to songs like "The Endless Plain of Fortune" and the title track, for me one of the album's highlights.

Highly recommended as a great album, fully deserving of five stars in other contexts. In this context, however, "Paris, 1919" may not stand as one of the most progressive of albums, at least not on the surface. At first, it can feel like a pleasant bunch of nicely orchestrated pop songs. However, if you let the album live with you for awhile, its darker, subterranean elements come to dominate, and it will find a nice home in your dark heart.

Report this review (#244603)
Posted Wednesday, October 14, 2009 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
2 stars Fourth album from Cale and this album is a sort of return to his debut album, which I don't think much of. After two excellent albums (Church Of Anthrax and Academy In Peril), both full of wonderful and exciting musical developments), this album is definitely a letdown despite an encouraging list of song titles and a classy front cover artwork.

A thankfully short album consisting of nine songs, none of the four and a half minutes long with most of them being deceptively simple, some having again that typical US adult rock (the first few tracks on side 1), others being more in a UK pop mode: Greene is between Bowie and 10 CC, McBeth is in a Status Quo meets Sweet mode and Paris is in a Beatles greets Kinks mode. The main difference between this album and VV is that the present is well arranged and better produced, and this is due to LA (where it is recorded) and the musicians on it?. Although the first re-issues were quiet about this issue, we can see that the good guitars are Lowell George's

If John Cale made a bunch of interesting albums throughout his long and varied solo career (most notably in the 90's with his film soundtracks), this album is certainly not one of them and even if a proghead likes poppier material, I'd still warn you about staying away from this one.

Report this review (#244847)
Posted Friday, October 16, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars PARIS 1919 is one of the most magical "rock 'n' roll" albums of all time. Indeed, I would not hesitate to include it in my personal Top Twenty (of popular music, that is) and I'm pretty sure John Cale himself would do the same, seeing as he includes tracks from it in nearly all his live shows. At the time I'm writing this he's due to revive the entire album live in Cardiff, with full orchestra and band. I guess he sees it as his ASTRAL WEEKS. And yes, it deserves a similar place in the canon.

Problem is, no-one seems to understand what the album is ABOUT. Although Cale's voice had a neurotic edge to it from the start, PARIS 1919's tunes are far less angst-ridden and aggressive than anything you find on later albums such as FEAR or MUSIC FOR A NEW SOCIETY. Most of the material seems to be about historical characters (Dylan Thomas, Graham Greene, Greta Garbo) and historical events (The First World War, the Spanish Civil War), but what is Cale trying to tell us? Most of the characters and events seem to be coming to him in dreams and visions. All Cale ever did was write his dreamiest songs about them. It's a surrealist's chocolate paradise!

For me personally, simply enumerating the album's song titles is sufficient: "A Child's Christmas in Wales", "Andalucia". "Paris 1919", "Half Past France", "Antarctica Starts Here": they're all exquisitely orchestrated bonbons which make the best possible use of strings and horns, and of the members of Little Feat who play on the album. Although Cale kept trying, he never again came up with such an extraordinary sequence of unforgettable melodies. My personal favourite is "Hanky Panky Nohow", which includes that memorable line, so innocently sung: "Nothing frightens me more / than religion at my door".

I look at Cale's old soulmates (Reed, Cohen, Nico, Bowie, Eno) and ask myself if any of them released a more unified or convincing album. The answer must be a resounding NO.

Report this review (#258844)
Posted Friday, January 1, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars After a number of experimental works, John Cale released this critically acclaimed classic rock album. Being quite familiar with his late 70's / early 80's albums, I had thought this would be the one to get so I picked up a copy of it. Luckily it was a cheap second-hand, because in the 20 years since, the classic status of this album has only grown to amaze me.

Paris 1919 is a very short collection of old & dusted 70's pop music, containing stuffy ballads and tame rock in woolly arrangements. It doesn't contain one song or idea that manages to catch my attention for even the smallest bit of a second. In a cynical sort of way, the album has only proven to be relevant to me for making me understand how truly stellar and amazing progressive rock must have sounded compared to this type of languid mainstream music.

This album is from 1973, from when progressive rock was around its peak, but the difference in sound, composition, arrangement, musical ideas and even energy is so huge that it seems to come from another century. It's quite unbelievable that such a meek pastoral album comes from the guy who was one of the brains behind Velvet Undergound. Only the closing track Antarctica Starts Here stands out a bit with its whispered vocals and dreamy atmosphere.

I guess that it is a competent work for this style of music so I won't give one star, but for me this is as far from interesting music, art rock, progressive rock or any of its digressions as can be. From the John Cale albums that I own, it's easily the most uninteresting and lifeless one. It's not even an album really, it's an EP.

Report this review (#265684)
Posted Friday, February 12, 2010 | Review Permalink
Chris S
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is a genuine attempt at heartfelt persuasion to win over the listener.Bearing in mind this was 1973, John Cale offers a softly ballad like album, yet highly vulnerable all the while. Great string associations on songs like the title track " Paris 1919", almost beatlesque at times." Andalucia" is a sweet tune with edgy lyrics but the highlight is without doubt the very personal " The Endless Plains Of Fortune". Perhaps the most progressive song on the album and to decipher the lyrics, well for this reviewer, is a guilt laden track about the abysmal scramble for Africa from Europe. " Half Past France" is a gorgeous song again with incredible lyrics. You can see why this artist has always remained true to his own musical direction. Paris 1919 is a unique album, very easy listening, yet fragile at the same time and lyrically solid. A definite necessity for any John Cale collector.
Report this review (#294971)
Posted Wednesday, August 18, 2010 | Review Permalink
2 stars On Paris 1919 John Cale offers up a disparate range of songs in a range of styles that collectively evoke an air of mildly wistful nostalgia but otherwise don't seem to have very much in common. Those who know him as Lou Reed's guitar sparring partner and teller of tall tales from the Velvet Underground may find the album disappointingly conventional, and indeed it seems to consciously balance Cale's art rock aspirations against a rather bland production - and whenever the two are in tension, blandness wins. Perhaps this is the right place to start with Cale if your musical diet to date has been unchallenging soft rock, but for those who are used to a little more zing in their music it's likely to be a snore-fest.
Report this review (#956087)
Posted Thursday, May 9, 2013 | Review Permalink

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