The rough edges that were almost entirely absent from Vintage Violence and Paris 1919 start to surface on Fear. This is largely a result of collaborating with Roxy Music alumni Eno, Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay, who help Cale to add the abrasiveness and the musical experimentation that was largely absent from his earlier solo records. In retrospect, the Eno and Cale liaison seems almost inevitable; both were the sonic innovators in their respective bands, before they were squeezed out by their band’s leaders after two albums. Cale writes that “the main point was to keep on doing the stuff that Lou had refused to keep doing in the Velvet Underground”, and far more than his first two records, this is the grownup successor to the experiments on White Light/White Heat. At the same time, it’s also a logical successor to his first two solo records, as half the tracks here are still pretty ballads that would have fitted fine onto either of those albums. With this divergent mix of styles, Fear stands as Cale’s quintessential work, showing his ability to write a melodic piano song ‘Ship Of Fools’ and follow it up with the abrasive, experimental ‘Gun’ with its conceptual “joint solo” from Manzanera and Eno.
‘Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend’ sets the tone of the record, starting as accessible piano pop before disintegrating into diving bass-lines, chaotic guitar and Cale’s screaming, inspired by a college performance art piece entitled “Scream At A Potted Plant Until It Dies”. Out of the other rock-oriented material, Richard Thompson guests alongside Manzanera and Bryn Haworth on the awesome triple slide guitar attack of ‘Momamma Scuba’, another sonic innovation. The centre-piece though, is the eight minutes of ‘Gun’, based around a hypnotic guitar riff, then unleashing an outlandish joint solo between Manzanera and Eno, with Eno treating Manzanera’s guitar solo through his synthesiser. On the quieter half of the record, a pretty baroque piano figure underpins the gorgeous ‘Ship Of Fools’, ‘Buffalo Ballet’ presents a romanticised take on the colonisation of America, while ‘Emily’ is delicate and graceful.
Fear showcases both Cale’s tender side, and his abrasive, experimental side, so it’s an excellent place to get a feel for his solo career. It’s worth tracking down The Island Years which features Fear and his two subsequent Island albums in their entirety, as well as bonus tracks.