REVIEW

 

JOHN CALE
Cologne, 1984 [no label 1CD]
Live in BFBS studios, Germany, Feb 5 1984. This was recorded after Cale played a concert. It is in the studio with interviewer Alan Bangs. A very revealing performance. Ex FM stereo.

John Cale’s early-mid 1980s are often regarded, by the man as well as his fans, as a period of some unrest and uncertainty, highlighted by a string of LPs that only occasionally hit the heights for which he was renowned. Breaking out of the claustrophobia of Music For A New Society, three more or less straightforward rock albums - Honi Soit, Caribbean Sunset and Artificial Intelligence - all have peaks that he had seldom visited in the past, but they also staggered beneath some embarrassing lows. This astonishing recording, however, shows us where Cale’s head was really at.

Interspersed with an enjoyably intelligent and revealing interview, Cale and his piano perform a short and delightfully disheveled live set that opens with a raw "Streets of Laredo," then moves on through "Buffalo Ballet," "Child’s Christmas," "I’m Walking," "Heartbreak Hotel," "Close Watch," "Hedda Gabbler" and "Waiting For My Man." Few surprises there, then, but the performances always astonish.

Cale alone was always a very different beast to Cale with a band, just as Cale live had little in common with Cale in the studio and, while it would have been especially illuminating to hear him tackle some of the LPs’ rockers ("Magazines," "Praetorian Underground," "Honi Soit" and so forth), still he pours so much character into the songs that he could be in the room with you. Improvisations, too, abound, while his good natured response to Alan Bangs’ questions remind us just how much he’s enjoying himself.

The downside is the sound quality, which is clear and loud enough, but is hamstrung by an annoying hiss, occasional drop-outs and sundry other shifts and warbles. Nothing to truly disrupt your listening, but enough to leave you regretting that things could not be sharper. For this is classic Cale, caught in what we should now start regarding as a classic era. Maybe Caribbean Sunset was not the new Fear. But it didn’t need to be. - Dave Thompson

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April 18, 2008