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17 September 2010

John Cale - 'Paris 1919' (Reprise)

Classic time! Paris 1919 is without a doubt my favourite John Cale solo work, and my particular copy is decrepit and moldy, with visible ringwear on the cover and a cut corner, indicating a promo bin/discount from some point in its timeline. This suits the record perfectly, for while there are some grand, bold arrangements here (if viewed as a rock album -- if viewed as orchestral pop, it sounds tiny), it's also self-consciously a product out of time, a displaced object bathed in sentimental memories and old dust-rust. The photos of Cale in his impecable white suit all bear the "last known photograph" effect, a compromise on his purity. And likewise, the sound is filled out with organs and the molasses of lower-mids. Listen to 'The Endless Plain of Fortune' if you don't believe me - it's a tune that trudges along, pushing forward through it's own cellos and violas, unable to reach the end. There's not much looking back to the strum-und-drang of the Velvet Underground on Paris 1919, or even the piano pounding ofChurch of Anthrax. When 'Macbeth' enhances the energy at the end of side 1, it still fits within this cohesive framework of the whole, and it's just a blast of fun, turning rowdy and cacophonous at the end. But dark clouds are pretty much absent here, though I would hesitate to call this an upbeat LP. When you have a tune as traditionally beautiful as 'Andalucia', you can't really see this as anything particularly challenging or avant-garde. Cale's singing voice is perfect for this material - supported by sliding guitars and organ textures, there's a buoyancy to his baritone bleatings. The fact that most memorable lines are delivered slowly, extending over several phrasings or chord changes, make Paris 1919 feel like a record of proud statements. 'Nothing ever frightens me more than religion at my door,' but this is an assessment of life at whatever age he was in 1973, built on Cale's not-forgotten past and sketched out through observations ('Half Past France'). And the title track, baroque and vulnerable, which I first heard when I was 14 and thought "This is like classical music, only like rock, and good too!". For a tune about longing, loss and ghosts, it's bouncy and bright, and the essence of what I thought "Europe" was before I ever got here. And then 'Graham Greene', where the Welsh accent gets a bit out of control, and Cale audaciously rhymes 'holding umbrellas/catching novellas' -- well, what a tune! I've listened to these songs back-to-back for so long that the feel like natural counterparts, even though they're pretty extremely different. This looks forward to Fear - another great album, but a lesser work - but you can have a second chance. 'Antartica Starts Here' is a nice closer of the (too-short) second side, with confident bass guitar and mechanical Wurlitzer supporting Cale's raspy poem. This is the weirdest falsetto singing I've ever heard, going for secrecy instead of heights, but it swells up when needed and marks a point of closure. Whispers linger on after the stylus spins out, and maybe I keep coming back to this, over and over, because I like secret communication.

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