John Cale
Fear Is A Man's Best Friend - John Cale

Album reviews

5 Tracks

5 Tracks

Review by Ken Clark

Since Cale has not released a pop album since 1996's "Walking on Locusts", there is a great deal of anticipation among fans regarding this new material. There have been several soundtracks of varying quality released since then but this is not Cale at his best. One of his many talents is to transform the banal rock song format into something greater. He has already achieved critical cult status for past achievements over and above his contribution to the Velvet Underground especially the Island records of the mid 1970s. Can he do it again?

This EP is clearly a taster for the full album that is due to be released this autumn. What is the intent of this unusual release strategy? Will this EP generate more interest for the album than a single or perhaps there are other motives. Many of the songs due for release on the new album have been previewed in solo concerts during the last few years so are already familiar to fans. How would they work fully fleshed out on an album?

Cale seems to work in frenzied bursts of activity where years go by where nothing happens and then suddenly there is a proliferation of albums, soundtracks and books. An authorised biography by Tim Mitchell is due to be released in June and many dates have been announced for a European tour this summer. He is clearly enjoying a critical renaissance with many tributes and retrospectives in the recent music press.

The EP turns out to be a remarkable collection of divergent material. While "Walking on Locusts" was mainly a pop affair, "5 Tracks" is much darker and builds on the past repertoire of the artist while fusing 9/11 concerns with rich samples and textures that were evident during his last London concert in July 2002. "Music for a New Society" would be a good reference point from previous works but with more complex sonic textures and sampled sounds.

Cale has always been at the cutting edge of contemporary music right from the pre-Velvet Underground experimentation finally released last year through to collaborations and productions with some of the most original rock performers. With this EP he stakes his hold on contemporary music without repeating past glories but building and enhancing established styles he has already created and develop them further.

Here is a brief synopsis of the 5 tracks:

  1. Verses: This piece is clearly influenced by 9/11 and the despair that we are living in a world without reason. There are some lovely female backing vocals similar to the "Saint Cyr" soundtrack and some characteristic screaming like "Mercenaries" and "Fear" without copying the approach of either former glory.
  2. Waiting for Blonde: Previewed at the Wire Magazine anniversary concert in London last year, this is Cale's dedicated 9/11 piece integrated with the Wall Street financial scandals. An eerie soundscape view of New York.
  3. E is Missing: About Ezra Pound, who has been exercised by politically correctness from all modern poetry anthologies due to his fascist sympathies.
  4. Chumps of Dumpty: An obvious lament to modern society with a complex techno backdrop.
  5. Wilderness Approaching: A strong ballad similar to "Close Watch".

There are plenty of ambiguous fragments within the lyrics that are sure to keep conspiracy theorists busy for weeks. Now the really big question: Is the new album is as strong as this introductory EP?

© 1999- Hans Werksman