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John Cale - Caribbean Sunset CD (album) cover


John Cale


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3.94 | 12 ratings

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4 stars Exciting Old Fart

The only reason we wore sunglasses on-stage was because we couldn't stand the sight of the audience. John Cale

Even depicted lying on the golden sands of some idyllic tropical paradise, John Cale looks like he's slumming it behind those frosted blue sun specs on the cover. He clearly still can't abide our presence in his midst. (and why is he wearing a woolly cardie for pity's sake?) It surely speaks volumes for the inconsistent and uneven nature of his output that 40 years later, we still refer to his solo career as that of 'post-Velvets' Such demarcation has never been felt necessary for his colleague Lou Reed. I've always felt that Cale was the Apollonian straight man to that of Reed's Dionysian wise-cracker, as the former's schooling in composition and contribution to the avant-garde of Lamont Young gave the Velvets their enduring Rimbaud smacked off his face sings the Stooges aura.

What's also significant is that the Velvets were as hugely influential in Europe as they were ignored throughout the USA. It's another of those strange paradoxical developments that rock throws up with surprising regularity e.g. the Stones/Kinks/Beatles imported US rock'n'roll and R'n'B to the US, while the VU imported the European imprint of Baudelaire, Masoch and Genet etc to Europe (Go figure)

I am a ham. I've no business being rock 'n' roll. I've said it over and over again that I'm a classical composer, dishevelling my personality by dabbling in rock 'n' roll. John Cale

Two can play at that game John bachgen:

Exit the Lemming is a sex god with the physique of a finely honed stallion and hung like a rutting rhino Exit the Lemming

Cale's dogged insistence of such a spurious claim is backed up by precisely zero evidence that he ever completed a score anyone in the classical realm would ever take seriously. Even the orchestral Words for the Dying is all the proof anyone would ever need that rawkers should never be let anywhere near blank manuscript paper. Perhaps it is this thwarted ambition that lends so much of his 70's material its (latent) vintage violence and paranoid menace ? By 1982 Cale had abandoned the more mainstream direction pursued on Honi Soit after the latter's commercial failure and signed to New York's Ze Records label. (notable for their roster of artists that subsequently spearheaded the 'No Wave' movement) Divorced from the shackles of A & M, Cale now had much freer rein to pursue the stark and minimalistic sound-world represented by the excellent but bleakly harrowing Music For a New Society.

Caribbean Sunset however, represents another stab at contemporary rock which is as rigorously conventional throughout as any genuine maverick like Cale could ever be expected to be.

Hungry For Love - Were it not for the camouflage provided by the old Welsh critters exquisite tonsilry, this could otherwise be described as a decent but undistinguished Alice Cooper out-take. Therein lies the enduring appeal of Mr Cale: even on mediocre pedestrian rock, his delivery completely transforms and transcends the medium. Peter Hammil is the only other singer I can think of capable of such feats.

Experiment Number 1 - Despite the tiresome lapse into rehearsed spontaneity where he pretends to teach the chord progression to the band in real time off mic, this is a very fine song that like so many Cale stories, is populated by characters who are richly undeserving of the love they need to feed on:

Well, she talks too much to know much about anything, Christmas comes, like breakfast, but once a year She does, seems just tired of living, like a wall broke around her spell Give me somewhere else to hold, to live for, Give me something better to hope for They'll give me anything they can Give me anything you want to hang on to, Hold on, hold on

Model Beirut Recital - John's approximation of a middle eastern 'Ali Baba' accent is either ridiculous, patronising or hilarious (or maybe all three) Lovely guitar hook punctuates the action at periodic intervals and the slower breakdown section is certainly inspired. Quite possibly a rare instance of slapstick humour in Cale's habitually mordant output.

When they grow up, the silly people who will run the world, when I'm thinking of the silly men People trying to run the world, something must be done about it, something must be done right now

Caribbean Sunset - At first I was completely underwhelmed by the album's title track but over time it proves to be a real climbing plant of a 'grower'. Listen to the understated yet magisterial viola that Cale weaves over the clockwork tick-tock of the percussion and just marvel that a composition of such subtle sparing colours conveys such a rich canvas. (He even pronounces 'Caribbean' the British way to boot - way to go John boyo)

Praetorian Underground - Closely akin to a paranoiac's spy music with an irresistible twangy guitar riff and a deranged Cale getting himself into one of his endearing froths over a crisis I haven't even the foggiest notion of what is the source. I'd hate to accidentally knock over this dude's drink in a bar.

Magazines - Guns have long been at the forefront of Cale's regular obsessions and on this song his surface regret at the emasculation of men 'post disarmament' is covertly outlined albeit in suitably ambivalent form:

If we could fight the good fight, If we could fight like men What wouldn't be lost if loud men died, Magazines of gun magazines are gone

Maybe the best track on the album and the clincher just might be the first appearance of a phenomenon everyone should experience before they expire: a John Cale scream. This audible critter sounds like a female grizzly bear bringing up a fur-ball and could conceivably turn glaciers to lakes in seconds. Concomitantly terrifying and thrilling.

Where There's a Will - The token 'introspective ballad' and although not on a par with the likes of Andalucia, I Keep A Close Watch, Dying on the Vine or Buffalo Ballet, a welcome respite from the preceding psychic speedballs. Lovely floaty organ sound on this that always strikes me as befitting an inflatable Hammond recorded underwater ?

The Hunt - Like Hungry for Love the distinctly unattractive surface (thrashy noo wave postures) is mitigated by Cale's skewering caustic whose target seems to be the hypocrisy of city dweller's denunciation of blood sports. i.e. Cale deems swapping the metropolis for the countryside is tantamount to being a weekend 'hound' by way of contrast to a weekday urban 'fox' ? Almost redolent of the Stranglers as if fronted by Boston's most infamous unknown assailant after a really bad day at the office.

Villa Albani - (The White House) Rather transparently inspired by that cunning little vixen Nixon, (or substitute the figurehead of any corrupt regime of your choosing)

Limousines coming and going, Helicopters are taking off Nobody's answering the phone, Nobody's picking up the mail Nobody's getting the door bell, This is a house of failure

The synth motif that slithers it's way throughout this track is a certifiable 24 carat classic and wedded to one of the few imaginative rhythmic patterns on offer here, make this a very strong and memorable finale to the album.

It should be readily apparent by now that the experimental edge and avant-garde ingredients found in Cale's earliest output had by Caribbean Sunset almost completely disappeared. This is plain vanilla rock music and to give Cale some well earned kudos, he makes no pretence that it is anything other than a collection of 9 very well crafted songs. There is still an indelible strain of this complex, contrary and feisty welsh dragon, that no-matter what heights he attains in the field of 'Rock', he will be forever 'slumming it' for an undeserving audience.

ExittheLemming | 4/5 |


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