on 10 June 2003
An excellent E.P. John Cale at his finest. Equally as stunning and experimental as the new Radiohead album. A great CD for both classic Cale fans and a great introductory CD for people hearing Cale for the first time. The musical correlation that existed between John Cale and The Creatures (aka certain members of Siouxshee and the Banshees) is clearly demonstrated in the opening track about contemporary times "Verses." Fans of Cale "Sabatoge/Live" era and "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues Era" will certainly welcome Cale's style of voice in the "Verses" track as it turns into a his signature normal tone to sonic scream. "Waiting For Blonde" is a brillant social critique that would not be out of place on a Ween or They Might Be Giants album or Velvet Underground. In addition, "Chums of Dumpty (we all are)" would not seem out of place on an Aphex Twin album. "E is Missing" is a kindred spirit to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." In addition, the closing track "Wilderness Approaching" is as bizarre as anything on Lou Reed's "The Raven" or Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' "Murder Ballads" or Bright Eyes "LIFTED OR.." 5 Star CD. Great for fans of Lou Reed's "The Raven," Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Antony and the Johnsons, Velvet Underground, The Pixies, Radiohead, Roxy Music, Leonard Cohen, Bright Eyes, The Flaming Lips, They Might Be Giants, Ween, Queen, Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, Talking Heads, George Harrison and the Ramones. And for fans of Cale: its' Cale of the past (Island Years, late 70's live) meets Cale of the 80's ("Music For a New Society" "Artifical Intellegence") meets contemporary Cale ("Eat/Kiss", "Dance Music", Fragments..live, "American Psycho: The Soundtrack"). To sum it all up an ecletic underated masterpiece in modern music. For American customers...well worth the import price. A Must For Fans of ecletic music.
5 Tracks is a good sign- the usual motif for avant garde music, such as David Sylvian's Blemish, is release it on an indie label, we're not interested. It seems that Cale, like Leonard Cohen & Scott Walker, is 'indulged' by major labels- which is wonderful when you hear this record. Not that it's unlistenable sonic-maelstrom- the production is crisp and sonically pleasing- while the songs are brilliant (not that Cale hasn't written brilliant songs in the past!).
Prior to this there had been several collaborations (Wrong Way Up with Eno; Songs for Drella with Lou Reed; the live album from the reformed Velvets; Last Day on Earth with Bob Neuwirth) alongside a frequent shift towards film soundtracks (American Psycho, Basquiat, The Beach, I Shot Andy Warhol, Love Me etc)& between that a feast of compilations/retrospectives (Seducing Down the Door, Fragments of a Rainy Season, The Island Years Anthology, Close Watch). & amid all that was Walking on Locusts (1996), not a bad album at all- but with 5 Tracks and its full-length follow-up Hobosapiens, there is a sense of Cale at a peak to rival any part of his legendary career. Perhaps it was writing the autobiography?
Contrary to the youth-centred industry of pop that clutters up the radio waves & music channels, Cale and 5 Tracks are proof that age is a virtue. Here is a man in his 60s, who has nothing left to prove, making as edgy and addicitive a recording as people half his age. Cale is one of the great set of older musicians making wonderful records regardless of age: Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits (Alice, Blood Money), Scott Walker(Pola X, Tilt), David Bowie (Heathen), Lou Reed (Ecstasy) etc Listening to a track like E is Missing, it's easy to see how lightweight avant-garde a band like Radiohead are (a band whose latest 2003 album features a track that sounds EXACTLY like a 1981 song by Simple Minds!)- though Cale has been listening to lots of new bands- The Beta Band, Lemon Jelly (who collaborate on Hobosapiens) & SFA- 5 Tracks sounds suitably modern.
Verses is a wonderful pop song, imagine of Cohen's Ten New Songs had a modern keyboard sound- there are some haunting female backing vocals which contrast with Cale's lead, a song mirroring the ethos of soundtracking now "scribbling in your notebook". Waiting for Blonde, like Bruce Springsteen's The Rising, is a reaction to 11th September 2001, New York. Like Springsteen's album, it doesn't smack of the exploitaton apparent in someone like Daryl Whoreley (a right-wing, Garth Brooks sounding singer, who has sold millions on the back of 9/11/the War on Terrorism- his songs recalling the thousands who died in NY, while ignoring the thousands who have died at the hands of US foreign policy, both pre-& post 9/11). Cale restricts his view to an surreal reportage of a subway journey, "You are New Yorkers, You are, you are"- the song sounds like the lost-Sylvian track Whose Trip is This (from the Little Girls ep with Ingrid Chavez) & Scott Walker's Manhattan (a song that has a different resonance post 9/11). The bassplaying and ambient backdrop is perfect- the title perhaps refers to Nico. Perhaps the association of death?...
Chums of Dumpty (We All Are) is again not far from Sylvian in Dead Bees on a Cake mode- there is a distinct pop sensibility here- not that I buy into a critique of what people deem "art rock". Some of the greatest or most popular records ever made have been art rock: Revolver, White Light/White Heat, Star Sailor, Dark Side of the Moon, A Wizard A True Star, Closer, Tilt. A twisted part of me would love to hear Chums of Dumpty covered by someone like Liberty X- it has a wonderful interlude which drifts off into ambient/strings that reminds me a little of such a break in Julian Cope's Sunshine Playroom (1983).
E is Missing is probably my favourite of the five-tracks, wild sounding falling strings that feel more Philip Glass or Ryuichi Sakamoto than the usual treatment accorded strings in 'alternative' music. The song itself is an attempt to reclaim the poetry of Ezra Pound- a man who like Ferdinand Celine collaborated with fascists during WWII- & who is now missing from the lexicon of literature, due to PC-revisionism (though I have studied Pound in Modernism). Pound is perhaps sidelined due to the fascist-association, something apparent with DH Lawrence (to a degree) and Celine. Cale is noting the difference between a man's actions and a man's art- & reading something like The Cantos (satirised in Pasolini's Salo as an exmaple of fascist art) it is hard not to be blown away. It's still great art, as Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will is an example of great art, as Nietzsche's writings or Wagner's music (both associated, usually vaguely, with the Nazis) are great art. E is Missing has these wonderful strings, and it's tone reminds me a little of Cale's work with Nico (notably Desertshore, it's the kind of song she would have sung, I feel) & the allusion to "Noel" reminds me a little of William Burroughs/Kurt Cobain's "The Priest They Called Him" or the coda to The Smiths' "Asleep"...
The final track, Wilderness Approaching, stems from the film Paris (Ramin Niami)- & is a wonderful piano driven ballad, with amazing sounding female backing vocals that move to the fore. Perhaps Cale should release a compilation akin to the third-disc on Springsteen's Essential Collection or the 5th Disc on Scott Walker's boxset- focusing on the songs/pieces associated with films? (No one was more surprised than I to find themselves watching Shrek, when halfway through, we begin to hear Cale's definitive, pre-Jeff Buckley, take on Cohen's Hallelujah from I'm Your Fan!!!). 5 Tracks is a great return to peak form, not that Cale has produced anything terrible- another addition to a brilliant career & it's nice to see an e.p. being released, what with Ryan Adams' Love is Hell, this could be the sign of a return to a great format? (& did I forget to mention the lovely artwork??)