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John Cale

John Cale Paris 1919

John Cale Album Reviews

While his former Velvet Underground bandmate Lou Reed has enjoyed a far higher public profile, John Cale has always been like an invisible hand guiding the alternative music scene. He started his career in the early 1960s in the contemporary classical scene – he studied the viola, and worked alongside contemporary composers like John Cage, Aaron Copland, and LaMonte Young. In the mid-1960s, he joined forces with Reed, and bought his classical training, like the use of drone notes, to the Velvet Underground. He produced crucial albums by The Modern Lovers, The Stooges, Patti Smith, and Nico, and appeared on albums by Nick Drake, Eno, and Super Furry Animals.

Even further under the radar is Cale’s lengthy and artistically successful solo career, which is often more accessible than his reputation as avant-garde would suggest, even if his haughty Welsh vocals preclude him from mass success. During the course of his solo career, he’s covered territory from the avant-garde of The Academy In Peril, the baroque pop of Paris 1919, and the punk influenced Sabotage.

I’m only familiar with some of his post 1970s’ albums, but even in his later career, he’s remained a restless explorer. And while he generally hasn’t touched the mainstream much, he was part of the process that saw Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ transformed into a modern standard; it was his edited version on a Cohen tribute album that saved the song from obscurity and inspired Jeff Buckley’s version.

Because he’s spread his attention over many different interests, Cale’s discography can seem disjointed and inconsistent at times. But Paris 1919 and Fear are well worth getting to know, and there’s plenty else of interest as well. If you enjoy other auteurs like Bowie and Eno from the same era, Cale’s worth exploring as well.

I haven’t covered all of Cale’s albums, so here’s a complete discography of his studio work, and a couple of his most significant live albums. I’ve underlined albums that I’m not planning to cover, but let me know if I’ve missed anything important:

John Cale Studio Albums

Vintage Violence (1970)
The Academy in Peril (1972)
Paris 1919 (1973)
Fear (1974)
Slow Dazzle (1975)
Helen of Troy (1975)
Sabotage/Live (1979) – live album of all new material
Honi Soit (1981)
Music for a New Society (1982)
Caribbean Sunset (1984)
Artificial Intelligence (1985)
Words for the Dying (1989)
Fragments of a Rainy Season (1992) – live album with Cale recording his back-catalogue solo
Walking on Locusts (1996)
HoboSapiens (2003)
blackAcetate (2005)
Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood (2012)
M:FANS (2016) – a reworked version of 1982’s Music For A New Society

Ten Favourite John Cale Songs

Paris 1919
Fear (Is A Man’s Best Friend)
(I Keep A) Close Watch
Chinese Envoy
Child’s Christmas in Wales
Ship of Fools

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John Cale Vintage Violence

Vintage Violence – John Cale

Vintage Violence (1970), 7.5/10 Surprisingly John Cale’s debut album owes more to the down-home pastoral feel on The Band’s first … Continue Reading Vintage Violence – John Cale

John Cale The Academy In Peril

The Academy in Peril – John Cale

The Academy in Peril (1972), not yet rated Cale’s second solo album (although he also had a collaboration with Terry … Continue Reading The Academy in Peril – John Cale

John Cale Paris 1919

Paris 1919 – John Cale

Paris 1919 (1973), 9.5/10 If Vintage Violence was a surprisingly mild debut for Cale, Paris 1919 is even more genteel, … Continue Reading Paris 1919 – John Cale

John Cale Fear

Fear – John Cale

Fear (1974), 9/10 The rough edges that were almost entirely absent from Vintage Violence and Paris 1919 start to surface … Continue Reading Fear – John Cale

John Cale Slow Dazzle

Slow Dazzle – John Cale

Slow Dazzle (1975), 7/10 John Cale’s fourth pop album was his least coherent yet, following the template of Fear but … Continue Reading Slow Dazzle – John Cale

John Cale Helen of Troy

Helen of Troy – John Cale

Helen Of Troy (1975), 7.5/10 Helen of Troy is in the vein of Cale’s previous record Slow Dazzle, but stronger … Continue Reading Helen of Troy – John Cale

John Cale Sabotage Live

Sabotage/Live – John Cale

Sabotage/Live (1979) Just picked this up and haven’t had enough time to form an opinion yet.

John Cale Music for a New Society

Music for a New Society – John Cale

Music for a New Society (1982), 8/10 John Cale describes his mood in creating Music for a New Society, a … Continue Reading Music for a New Society – John Cale

John Cale Words for the Dying

Words for the Dying – John Cale

Words for the Dying (1989), 6.5/10 John Cale set music to four of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’ poems in 1982 as … Continue Reading Words for the Dying – John Cale

John Cale Fragments of a Rainy Season

Fragments of a Rainy Season – John Cale

Fragments of a Rainy Season (1992), 9/10 Fragments of a Rainy Season is a live album, compiled from different dates on … Continue Reading Fragments of a Rainy Season – John Cale

John Cale HoboSapiens

Hobo Sapiens – John Cale

Hobo Sapiens (2003), 7.5/10 Cale was an admirer of the albums that Beck had created with ProTools; in his sixties, … Continue Reading Hobo Sapiens – John Cale

John Cale Black Acetate

Black Acetate – John Cale

Black Acetate (2005), 5.5/10 Black Acetate is the sequel to Hobo Sapiens, but where that album was glorious techno colour, Black … Continue Reading Black Acetate – John Cale

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