Sunday, February 1, 2009

the best post-VU record

our latest gift to the blogzaphere is our crack staff's attempt to find the best solo record made my a member of the velvets. as nico and cale left before the band ended, we start from their moment of departure.

jack's take

john cale, vintage violence

My vote for the best post VU record is John Cale's Vintage Violence.  Originally released in 1970, it bears little resemblance to the VU's catalog either with or without Cale. In lieu of the ugliness found on the two Cale VU records (particularly White Light/White Heat), Cale presents a country-pop record sounding often like a more radio friendly Flying Burrito Brothers.

In the CD reissue, Cale states that the songs are attempts to mimic his favorite songwriters of the time, and he cites the Bee Gees as an example.  While the record clearly draws some of the elements of their early Polydor LPs, influences from several other musicians/bands of the time are apparent.  In addition, the record seems to be a dubious precursor to both singer/songwriter and prog rock.  That being said, Cale's solo debut is not only a calm after the VU storm but also a legitimate attempt at radio accessibility.

The opening track, "Hello, There" could be a happier version of a Syd Barrett song complete with bar band style piano.  This leads into "Gideon's Bible" which sounds exactly like a song named "Gideon's Bible" should: Donovan and tons of marijuana.  "Adelaide", a train station sing-along with harmonica, follows Gideon and suggests the idea of anticipation, something not found on the VU records.  The next track, "Big White Cloud", appears to be the LP's big statement or at least the song that could have been=2 0the hit.  It's a solid song and employs the appropriate AM radio fadeout but sounds too much like a sober Jim Morrison doing karaoke.  This leads into "Cleo", a slightly annoying children's play song with rudimentary piano and call and response vocals.  It's somewhat out of place for a record of this caliber, but it's no worse than Husker's "How To Skin A Cat" and thus can be forgiven.  Side A closes with "Please".  Thematically a poor man's "Help", its melodrama is saved by its understated pedal steel and piano.

Side B opens with "Charlemagne" and suggests that Cale may have been one of the first people in the world to own Elton John's Empty Sky.  This is followed by "Bring It On Up", which would fit smoothly into any Grateful Dead set.  "Amsterdam" is probably the closest thing to a VU track and would probably have been sung by Nico had it been.  Several decades later, Belle and Sebastian would release several wussier variations of this song.  "Ghost Story" follows and is probably the weakest track.  It comes across as a pirate confessional with unnecessarily spooky keyboards and an inexplicably abrupt ending.  The LP ends with the Garland Jeffreys penned "Fairweather Friend". His band, Grinder's Switch, played on the record.  A by the numbers rocker, it seems tacked on.

The CD reissue includes an alternate take of "Fairweather Friend" and an instrumental entitled "Wall".  The latter sounds like Cale tuning for "The Black Angel's Death Song" and is completely superfluous.

On the whole, Vintage Violence is a tasteful, accessible record with a highly disciplined backing band.  It shows restraint not expected from Cale in 1970.  He would later call the record naïve.  After VU however, naïveté was not only in order but also refreshing.

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