Tuesday, June 28, 2011

John Cale 4: Paris 1919

His last two vinyl excursions may have been difficult listening for those expecting the comparatively more mainstream pop of Vintage Violence, which only made John Cale’s next “rock” album more striking. Paris 1919 is an overdue collection of straightforward songs, recorded largely with Lowell George and Richie Hayward of Little Feat with the Crusaders’ Wilton Felder as the house band, giving the proceedings a slicker, L.A. feel. That’s not to say it could be mistaken for anything else on the radio at the time.
The opening “Child’s Christmas In Wales” shares its title with the wonderful Dylan Thomas piece, though its typically obscure lyrics that barely rhyme make it an unlikely Yuletide classic. The lush soundscape in “Hanky Panky Nohow” distracts from the words, which probably mean something to someone, unless they don’t. One track we’ve come to like is “The Endless Plain Of Fortune”, which hearkens to some of the more somber moments of Vintage Violence, and melds the orchestra with the band nicely. “Andalucia” begins with a truly lazy rhyme, but finishes as a sweet love song, whereas “Macbeth” is a driving rocker that directly references the Shakespeare play.
With its stately orchestration, the title track is the highlight of the album, with a hell of a hook in a chorus Robert Pollard has stolen at least once. One might have to be versed in the works of Graham Greene to catch all the references in the herky-jerky song of the same title, but luckily it’s moved aside by the thoughts of the train passenger moving “Half Past France”. Unfortunately, his near-whispered-but-still-sung delivery on “Antarctica Starts Here” states the decay of the “paranoid great movie queen” too clearly for comfort.
Despite the dressing, Paris 1919 is a dark album, which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise for anyone following along, but it’s still an unexpected listening experience. The better songs have endured, and rightly so. (In the UK, an expanded CD in 2006 bolstered the original short program with alternates or rehearsals of each of the album tracks, plus the outtake “Burned Out Affair”. Oddly missing is “Dixieland And Dixie”, the jaunty single issued after the first sessions with the Feat.)

John Cale Paris 1919 (1973)—3


  1. Wardo:

    I almost always agree with your opinion on the albums you review.

    Paris 1919 is in my opinion one of the finest albums of the 1970's. I would consider it a 4 or even a 4 & 1/2. Rather magical in my opinion. Songwriting, arrangements & performances are extremely strong, Give it another or listen or two and let me know what you think back here in the comments.

    Captain Al

  2. This was the album that got me buying - and selling - his following albums on release. Gawd knows I've tried, but nothing before or since gets it this right.