Surprisingly John Cale’s debut album owes more to the down-home pastoral feel on The Band’s first records than the primitive garage rock of his former group’s White Light, White Heat. Vintage Violence is effortlessly melodic and more formally composed than much of his other work; Cale states that he was following the lead of pop acts like The Bee Gees. Vintage Violence was recorded with the band Grinderswitch, and rehearsed and recorded within three days, a speed that’s not betrayed in the album’s tasteful and tight veneer.
The most memorable songs are the atmospheric pieces that close the album – ‘Ghost Story’ is driven by an eerie organ part, while ‘Amsterdam’ is pared down almost to an acoustic guitar strum and evocative lyrics (“She’s back from Amsterdam/And I think the journey did her well”). The pretty ‘Big White Cloud’ is arranged and conducted by Cale himself, while the opening ‘Hello There’ showcases Cale’s piano fluency. The only piece that’s remotely avant-garde is the bonus track ‘Wall’, six awesome minutes of electric viola scraping.
In contrast,most of Vintage Violence is plain gorgeous and inherently musical; it just doesn’t feel as significant as Cale’s best work, even if it’s surprisingly hooky and accessible. It showcases a light and playful side of Cale that would become submerged as his recorded oeuvre became darker and more demanding.