on 24 January 2000
From the grunge guitar of the seedy 'Gun' to the light, breezy, background drone of 'Ship of Fools', this album is a collection of schizophrenic songs, each highlighting a particular facet of the many different coats that Welshman John Cale is able to wear successfully. High points include the piano histrionics and screaming breakdown at the end of the title track, following a catchy hook that you will be humming to yourself endlessly. The eight minute guitar extravaganza of 'Gun' predates old sparing partner Lou Reed's metal grind of the 'Blue Mask' by almost a decade. It also leaves you cooing for more, and thoroughly disappointed when the long fade out begins. Each song on this album has its own identity, and is the perfect showcase for the off kilter guitar pop that Cale has shown to be his own.If you don't own another Cale album, then make this the one to choose,an excellent highpoint in John Cale's early solo work, but by no means the only one either.
on 28 November 2001
Thankfully, John emerged from the Velvet Underground with his eclectic and quite individual art rock sensibilities intact. He demonstrated this to a satisfying extent in "Fear", a strong set of songs, each with their own identity. From the immediate and insistent hook of the title track, John takes us into his weary, darkly humourous world, via the old west. And Swansea. Cale is consistently clever throughout this album without thumbing his nose at anyone - the songs, often humourous (The Man Who Couldn't Afford To Orgy), or poignant (Buffalo Ballet) are never mawkish or overstated. The jerky pop sensiblities of "Barracuda" recall (indeed, pre-date) Eno era Talking Heads, which I guess is no surprise as Eno is one of the usual suspects involved in the album. Frequently minimal in arrangement, yet sometimes breaking ranks with lush strings or busy guitars and percussion, Fear is a tour de force of diverse songwriting. Not being familiar with John's solo work before this album, I'm certainly encouraged (and I must admit, pleasantly suprised) by his unique blend of Welsh/East Coast avant garde. Recommended.
There are at least 3 masterpieces on this album of dark rock and clever humour. The title track is a brooding rock ballad with tempo variations and poetic lyrics, one of the most angst-ridden songs in the canon of rock.
Gun is another manic excursion into dark emotional territory, brilliantly executed and with perfect synergy between voice and instruments. It has all the anger of punk, but sounds even more menacing for its complex arrangement and intelligent lyrics.
Providing comic relief just when it is need most, The Man Who Couldn't Afford To Orgy has a lovely breezy melody and propulsive rhythm with sensual female vocals by Judy Nylon. This song very cleverly breaks the spell of the eerie and mournful tone of the tracks preceding it.
The rest isn't bad, but not as immediately memorable as the aforementioned. For example, Buffalo Ballad is quite a pleasant gentle ballad and Barracuda is an engaging mid tempo rocker with an edgy riff. Emily and Ship Of Fools are both mournful, atmospheric ballads.
I highly recommend the Island Years collection, a 2 CD-set that contains this entire album, Slow Dazzle and Helen Of Troy, plus some previously unreleased tracks. That collection properly demonstrates the genius of John Cale in the context of the era.