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John Cale - Artificial Intelligence CD (album) cover


John Cale

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4 stars An odd release this - if the term 'odd' is anything to go by with a John Cale release. It's almost 'underproduced' and flattens most of its great compositions. There are washes of synths; a guitar that sound afraid of its own sound; somewhat, for Cale's standards anyway, restrained vocals and an array of programmed drums - everything so very popular in the Eighties. Still, once you get past these irritations you will find an album full of little wonders: great melody lines, tight playing and, as always with Cale, slick and masterful songwriting, which climaxes early in the truly remarkable 'Dying On The Vine' - even if you find not much of prog interest on this album this soulful ballad will have you reeling for more. 'Chinese Takeaway' is an assembly of musical quotations and an extension of Cale's ongoing avantgarde pop experimentations. All in all 'Artificial Intelligence' will not boast any initial surprises, but repeated and careful revistings will eventually reward the listener!
Report this review (#244684)
Posted Wednesday, October 14, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Eminence Grecian 2000

Caribbean Sunset from 1984 represented for me a real return to form for this infuriatingly inconsistent Welshman so I approached it's successor with a breathless sense of expectation and excitement. I've never met John Cale but in one respect we both 'go back a long way' so I always feared he might reach 'old and sad husk of a man who smells of pee' status long before I did. Therefore I queued up patiently in line to purchase Artificial Intelligence the day it was released. Was it worth it? Well it certainly wasn't a long wait as Mr Cale is about as popular in Scotland as a St George's Cross tartan. I know it sounds terrible to say this but most Cale fans would agree that we hope our hero's personal cosmos has gone teats skywards just before he pops into a studio to record his latest endeavours. In mitigation of this shameful schadenfreude we know that a happy John means we suffer for his art.

Every-time The Dogs Bark - Things get off to a blistering start with Cale fixing us with his patented 'did you just call me a welsh poof?' fifty yard stare supplanted by that curious taffy/big apple snarl that manages to inhabit sinister, endearing and chilling without apparent contradiction. The rattling skeletal guitar that supports the flayed skin of the famished verses is brilliantly rationed and when the chorus arrives it gorges us with a delicious, thrilling and exquisitely elusive dissonance from the glacial synths. Yep, one of the best tracks ever in his solo career.

Dying On The Vine - This slipped under the Lemming radar on the first few plays but it creeps up behind you and gently taps the listener on the shoulder as if to say 'I know you remember me, my name's on the tip of your tongue ain't it? A very understated, subtle and beautiful song where John sounds at his most plaintive, heartfelt and vulnerable on the entire album:

Who could sleep through all that noisy chatter, the troops, the celebrations in the sun? The authorities say my papers are all in order and if I wasn't such a coward I would run

It's Cale's ingenious bass line that carries all the requisite harmonic information on this track and represents a salutary lesson in how to imply chords without actually playing them. What could have been a rather jaded and predictable structure is thus invested with a refreshing and resilient ambivalence.

The Sleeper - Like most successful songs concerned with the primacy of storytelling, the accompaniment has to be content to play second fiddle to the narrative yet be sufficiently evocative and malleable to enhance and invoke the desired mood without being intrusive. John negotiates this elusive balancing act like a seasoned trapeze artist on this number:

I should have shot you in the back, that's what Jesus would have done if Satan had come and looked him in the eye and said Your'e my kind of guy, why don't you come away with me?

Vigilante Lover - Notable by dint of accomplishing that rare feat of being an extraordinarily dull rant. Another instalment in Cale's cripplingly large catalogue of songs that betray the laziness of their author with what started life as rudimentary guide tracks he clearly couldn't be arsed to change. A neutered 80's digital synth traipsing down the aisle hand in hand with a sterile drum machine was never the happiest day of anyone's life - Is there anyone present, who knows of any just cause why this couple may not be lawfully joined in marriage? (Yeah...Me, they just might immaculately conceive an alienated son called Walter)

Chinese Takeaway (Hong Kong 1997) - as a punning title alluding to the proposed reclamation of Hong Kong by the Chinese from the Brits it works brilliantly, but John forgot to actually come up with any tangible music for this indolent piece of detritus. He quotes idly from Bach and the theme from 'the Archers' as if such free association would escape further scrutiny by being considered post modern ironic. As my old gran used to say : Pure keech (and she loved the Archers, don't bother googling this, if you don't get the gist you will like this track, prosecution rests)

Song of the Valley - Help me Rhonda this ain't and anyone who dallied with state of the art drum machines and digital synths circa '85 will suffer a pang of nostalgia followed very shortly thereafter by an even bigger mugging by a pang gang of regret. To be fair this is a decent song that manages to surmount its hideously dated textures courtesy of Cale's impassioned delivery and attractive melodic compass.

Fadeaway Tomorrow - Synth Pop for people who loathe Synth Pop. It's hard not to envisage a caustic wink in the Cale eye during this but you can tell by his urgent delivery he realises the hook is borderline addictive and can be proud of the genuinely inspired female backing vocals. A 'Big Hair' and shoulder pad snowdrift rescue package for the balding dandruff victims in our midst

Black Rose - Mercifully things perk up significantly hereabouts with a memorable and alternately brooding and majestic ballad that harnesses its latent weight beneath some sumptuous acoustic guitar picking and inspired synth textures. The organic and synthetic elements combine seamlessly here and just proves that we can't blame technology alone for the iniquities of the 80's (GI-GO) It's brilliantly paced and structured throughout and the ending to fade tag-line standing on the corner howling at the moon mimics uncannily a preoccupied author lost in his thoughts while ambling aimlessly through a bustling city street.

Satellite Walk - I can imagine Bowie tackling something like this with far greater aplomb as identical stylistic garb draped on Cale resembles a hippy shoehorned under protest into an ill fitting tuxedo while the thin white Duke could conceivably still extract 'insouciant kitsch' while donning a potato sack and woolly mittens. A rather silly and ingratiating song but given John's penchant for making 'light hearted' very heavy going, we should commend a rare departure into the whimsical and nonsensical. As the dear departed Syd would have it: Kinda catchy

John Cale is one of those artists that has everyone's abiding respect despite having never really delivered at the highest level on a consistent basis. His best work compares favourably with and is arguably more ambitious than that of his supposed peers like Lou Reed and David Bowie. Yet we are left nursing a hangover from revelry that grows more legendary only the further we get from the source. Like the vagaries of time, Artificial Intelligence represents an aesthetic middle age spread where the extremities are betrayed by that pear shaped bulge in the centre that we all succumb to sooner or later. Although I can't find definite confirmation of the following, it seems most of the lyrics on the album were penned by noted rawk scribe Larry 'Ratso' Sloman and that being the case, they certainly ain't bad but such 3rd party accounts further distance my affection for this record as like most Cale fans, I want John to be my confessor from behind the sheltering grille. The lack of a conventional 'band' save guitarist David Young, with which to bounce his ideas off also must contribute to the rather self absorbed home demo feel of these recordings. Artificial Intelligence inhabits a demi-monde between the parched and brilliant minimalism of Music For a New Society and the strident rock grunt of Guts. I'll let you decide if this is a happy resting place or John's mobile home on an empty tank.

Report this review (#531051)
Posted Saturday, September 24, 2011 | Review Permalink

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