Close Watch: An Introduction To John Cale / Dance Music

By now, [a]John Cale[/a] has doubtless accepted his career is forever destined to be overshadowed by two records he made in the '60s....

By now, John Cale has doubtless accepted his career is forever destined to be overshadowed by two records he made in the '60s.

His avant-contribution to those first two Velvet Underground albums made his name, but they've also ensured that his 16 subsequent solo records have struggled for an identity of his own. 'Close Watch...', a compilation culled from every era of his post-Velvets career, is the latest attempt to redress that balance.

And what it proves more than anything is the sheer force of personality that Cale has always brought to his music. Capable of great beauty, his solo records are more frequently characterised by a belligerence and high seriousness that can't just be explained by his formal training in classical music. This is particularly true of his mid-'70s work, which - recorded against a backdrop of excessive drug and alcohol abuse - is by and large an unmitigated chore to listen to.

Where Cale shines is with his ballads. Given a ballast and grandeur by his rich vocals and fragile use of repetition, songs like 'Ship Of Fools' and 'Dying On The Vine' prove that it wasn't just Lou Reed who had the ability to write simple and affecting songs. It's just for Cale that was never an end in itself, which was ultimately both his making and downfall. 7/10

It's also meant that he's always kept himself open to various forms of experimentation. 'Dance Music' is 67 minutes of instrumental music he scored for a ballet about Nico in 1997. Even if there's something innately amusing about that idea, the music here doesn't reflect it. Sparse and sombre, it's an accurate - if hardly essential - soundtrack to her life. And further proof that, however hard he tries, Cale will never escape his past.
6 / 10

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