By Ken Scrudato on April 12, 2012
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO,
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO (1967)
A cultural landmark and still one of the most influential albums ever. Cale’s penchant for experimental sonics collided with Lou Reed’s debauched romanticism, and the result was a shocking counter to ’60s hippy-dippy peace and love. From dreamy balladry (“Sunday Morning”) to drug culture verite (“Heroin,” “I’m Waiting For the Man”) to S&M homage (“Venus in Furs”), it remains a stunning document of the decay of the old value system.
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND,
WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT (1968)
Cale’s last album with the VU, the descent into experimental noise and chaos laid one of the imperative cornerstones of punk. The 17-minutes-plus “Sister Ray” is like the sound of the world falling apart—which, in many ways, it was.
PARIS 1919 (1973)
With a titular reference to the post-WWI peace talks, it was very much the work of an artist trying to make peace with himself. Opening with Cale’s musical take on the Dylan Thomas poem “Child’s Christmas in Wales,” it becomes part imaginary travelogue (“Andalucia,” “Antarctica Starts Here”) and part showcase for his literary proclivities (“Macbeth,” “Graham Greene”). Stark, personal and yet epically orchestrated.
Despite admitting that punk had snuck up on him, here Cale paid tribute to the DIY ethic by recording the entire album live at CBGB. The apocalyptic cover image hints at the noticeably less romantic, more politicized content within. You can hear Cale’s influence on Talking Heads, and their influence on him.
WORDS FOR THE DYING (1989)
The long-delayed release of Cale’s 1982 “The Falklands Suite” (his response to the Falklands War using the poems of Thomas), Brian Eno stepped in as producer/co-writer and the beautifully melancholic result, featuring the Llandaff Cathedral Choir of Wales, showcased Cale’s remarkable talent as a neo-classical composer.
LOU REED AND JOHN CALE,
SONGS FOR DRELLA (1990)
In the aftermath of Warhol’s death, Reed and Cale put aside bitterness to pay tribute in song. It’s musically spotty, never really peaking viscerally. But as an earnest and passionate tribute to the almost incomprehensible genius and bizarreness that was Andy, it’s a lyrical triumph. Cale’s “Trouble With Classicists” pithily sums up how the artist laid so much of the cultural past to waste.
BRIAN ENO AND JOHN CALE,
WRONG WAY UP (1990)
The definitive pairing of the two giants of experimental music, Wrong Way Up is actually a masterpiece of modern pop. “Lay My Love” and “Been There Done That” are exuberant, reggae-and-funk-tinged glories, reminding that all pre-conceived notions about both Cale and Eno are pointless.
Recorded for the Leonard Cohen tribute album I’m Your Fan, it’s that rarest of rarities, a cover version that arguably eclipses the original. Cale’s haunted, devastating and starkly visceral recording of Cohen’s neo-biblical meditation on eviscerated desire has become a veritable signature song. Utterly astonishing.
THE ISLAND YEARS (1996)
A great Cale primer, it compiles his tense, exciting mid ’70s work, including the albums Fear, Slow Dazzle and Helen of Troy. It could be argued that this period of Cale’s career laid much of the groundwork for what would follow in the realm of Gothic rock.
EXTRA PLAYFUL EP (2011)
Newly signed to Domino Records, Cale delivered a fascinatingly contemporary record. That tracks like “Catastrofuk” and “Whaddya Mean By That” could sit beside anything by LCD Soundsystem, Cold Cave or Animal Collective proves how full circle Cale’s influence has come. An exciting precursor to his first full album for the label, coming in 2012.
THE STOOGES, THE STOOGES (1969)
Here, Cale was instrumental in yet another seminal and impossibly influential record. Few producers could have captured the, um, raw power and nasty exhilaration of Iggy and his fellow scuzzbags. This was the blueprint for hardcore, period.
NICO, THE MARBLE INDEX (1969)
Easily one of the darkest albums ever made, Nico’s haunted vocals and her ominous harmonium create a Teutonic chill that is ravishingly devastating. Cale’s string arrangements give it an epic power. A gothic masterpiece.
PATTI SMITH, HORSES (1975)
Considered amongst the most iconic records of all time, Patti Smith conveyed the thrilling chaos of contemporary Downtown New York through the literary majesty of a neo-Symbolist poet. Cale’s production smartly does not attempt to rein in the wild child, thus allowing Smith’s musical spirit to unfold in all directions.
SQUIRREL AND G-MAN TWENTY FOUR HOUR PARTY PEOPLE PLASTIC FACE CARNT SMILE (WHITE OUT) (1987)
Who would have thought? Cale’s most bizarre production job, he took a ragtag band of Manchester miscreants and somehow helped launch an entire scene. Indeed, the Mondays’ debut—raw, funky, drugged out and a riot of youthful mayhem—was the cornerstone of a Madchester movement that would forever unite rock and dance. Another landmark.
SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES,
THE RAPTURE (1995)
(See interview with Steven Severin)
THE BOXING MIRROR (2006)
The legendary Austin singer-songwriter enlisted Cale for what was essentially a recovery album. Escovedo had struggled with deadly hepatitis C, and The Boxing Mirror shows a man poignantly coming back to life. Cale handles it all with the appropriate tender care. F
This article is from FILTER Issue 47