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John Cale - Honi Soit CD (album) cover


John Cale


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3.39 | 13 ratings

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4 stars The royal coat of arms that gave the album its title (quoting fully: Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense: Evil to Those Who Think It) was a nice ironic touch for a songwriter otherwise given to such malignant obsessions. But his 1981 LP is, in my own admittedly incomplete experience, one of John Cale's more accessible efforts, a fact that hardly compromises its quality or strength. Cale had already absorbed some of the energy and attitude of Punk Rock (see his previous "Sabotage/Live" album), and the same aggressive impulses continued into these sessions, filtered somewhat through a commercial sieve of 1980s New Wave marketability.

The album opener "Dead or Alive" is an atypically conventional rocker: John Cale crossed with Bruce Springsteen, maybe. But it doesn't take long for the old warhorse to begin scratching his usual wounds, and with a vengeance. The lyrically twisted "Strange Times in Casablanca", with its couples "sleeping in each other's mattresses / like maggots in despair", is actually one of the album's milder psychotic detours. Even more alarming is the schizophrenic free association of "Wilson Joliet", with Cale's voice ascending relentlessly toward an apotheosis of indescribable fury.

On the punchy title track the singer improvises non-sequiturs in schoolboy French over a heavy dance-floor backbeat, and because it's John Cale one of the phrases is of course "coup d'état" (mais oui, le voilà!) And no Cale album would be complete without a pathological cover song, in this case giving the cowboy ballad "Streets of Laredo" a moody New Wave facelift, perfectly suited to its morbid tale of a dead gunslinger ("...wrapped in white linen and cold as the grave") wandering the back trails of Texas.

The sharp sound of the album was the work of ace producer Mike Thorne, best known at the time for having applied his signature audio gloss to the angular art-punk of early Wire. Thorne provided similar guidance for Cale on this collaboration, keeping the Welshman on a tighter leash than usual while still allowing him room to prowl the darker shadows of his cage. The result was one of those rare albums that made us believe the '80s might not be so bad after all...a false hope, as it turned out, but don't blame this effort.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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