When I’m not out there trying to bring the entire musical canon into my house, I can be found wandering off into the nether corners of the musical landscape. For some odd reason, I decided it was time to check out what the hell John Cale had been doing since the Velvets, aside from producing some great bands and playing on other people’s records.
Now why would I do this except to piss off (a not dead yet) Lou Reed? Cale and Reed never really got along. Reed kicked Cale out of the Velvet Underground, and made sure no one had any fun during the reunion tour in the 90s.
I was having a lousy summer and was in one of my very frequent judgemental moods. And who better to go after than heroes who disappoint? Like Gore Vidal, who wrote eloquently about politics and history, but whose will left nothing to his longtime housekeeper, and John Lennon, who sang about peace and love, but treated his women like garbage. I’m not sure if this information was in the ether at the time, or I was just stumbling upon it. In any case, I was loaded for bear.
So if you’re thinking of people who create beauty but who do ugly things, who’s a bigger bear than Lou Reed? I might have been looking for a good Velvet Underground video to post to Facebook, when I came across a video or Reed acting out on some poor interviewer. Well, he wasn’t really that awful on it. But the the bad behavior stories are legion. So, what could little old me do to stick it to mean old Reed? Why, buy a John Cale record, of course.
So I began wandering around the internets for a “popular” John Cale record. Well, there’s no such thing. So I got this one:
Cale brought the non-guitar noise to VU - playing bass and violin, and doing his best to make them sound like ballistic missiles.
His post VU career is probably more varied than Lou Reed’s. This 2 CD set combines Cale’s three albums for Island records (Fear, Slow Dazzle and Helen of Troy) a few years after VU broke up. During this period, he keeps things pretty conventional, saving the lunacy for some occasional screaming, but otherwise letting others like Eno to do the dirty work for him
Of the three albums gathered here, Fear is the strongest. The moods are varied and the band is tight. The songwriting is pretty good, and the vocals are...well.
Slow Dazzle and Helen of Troy don’t seem to have as strong an identity but of course that can be due to being stuck behind Fear in the playing order. And the more I play this thing, the more I like them. But it turns out that my favorite cuts are the previously unreleased ones and the B Sides. And the ballads!
As good as this set is, it’s hard to love Cale, and just as hard to hate him. Not so with Reed of course, who provoked extreme reactions with practically every album he made. And he made a lot. Probably more than Cale sold. But given how they felt about each other, every Cale record sold was probably a nail in Reed’s coffin.
Well, I got this record, and it must have been the one to put him over the limit. Within a month, Reed was dead. So I confess, I probably did it. But as Mrs. Jaybee says, I suffer from delusions of grandeur.
When to Play It: When you’re in the mood to explore.
When NOT to Play It: When you want to have fun.