If Vintage Violence was a surprisingly mild debut for Cale, Paris 1919 is even more genteel, musically sophisticated and literate. It’s a step forward from the uncertain, if musically intuitive, Vintage Violence, its themes of twentieth century history, culture and nostalgia giving it a more unified feel than its predecessor.
Surprisingly, some of the musical backing comes from Little Feat members Lowell George and Richie Hayward; while their influence is obvious in the mid-record rocker ‘Macbeth’, they’re delicate and restrained elsewhere. The UCLA Symphony Orchestra also features on the record, giving tracks like ‘The Endless Plain Of Fortune’ a sophisticated veneer with their rich orchestration, and the orchestration and Cale’s piano are the dominant textures on the record.
The only tracks that deviate from the sophisticated, orchestrated sound are the rocker ‘Macbeth’, which is out of place on the otherwise subdued record, and the creepy, half-whispered closer ‘Antarctica Starts Here’. The title track is perhaps Cale’s finest recorded song, with its elegant melody and its instrumentation almost entirely comprised of orchestration. ‘Hanky Panky Nohow’ is less controversial than its name would imply, while ‘Graham Greene’ feels like a Ray Davies composition.
Paris 1919 is full of elegant melodies and arrangements that never veer close to cheap sentimentality or saccharine.