Thursday, August 5, 2010

Retroblog : John Cale's "Paris 1919"

In my series of "albums you should definitely listen to"...

John Cale, « Paris 1919 », 1973.

Child's Christmas in Wales
Hanky Panky Nohow
The Endless Plain of Fortune
Paris 1919
Graham Greene
Half Past France
Antarctica Starts Here

Like probably most people, I came across John Cale through the Velvet Underground, and, again like most Velvet enthusiasts, soon found out that the temperamental Welsh had a most fascinating solo career. This 1973 gem is probably his best known record, and yet (like the rest of Cale’s career) remains much too obscure.

The title and the artwork say it all, this is a European record, set at a particular time and place, namely the Plains of Endless Fortune that were Europe after the apocalypse. Musically, the record perfectly captures the melancholy quiet of post-war Europe, from the opening “Child’s Christmas in Wales” to the placid, but somehow vaguely menacing “Antarctica starts here”. At first glance, the mood is light and sunny, but it’s only the deceptive quiet after civilization has been put to a painful halt. A misanthropist Cale leads us “down on darkened meetings on the Champs Elysées”, taking snapshots of colonial empires crumbling to pieces and deadly boring tea parties in England, musing aboard a train going nowhere : “From here on it's got to be/ A simple case of them or me/ If they're alive then I am dead”.

The instrumentation lean to the classical, as exemplified by the title song’s chamber symphony, and Cale provides some of his most beautiful acoustic ballads with the suitably glowing “Andalucia” and “Hanky Panky Nohow” (and its memorable line : “Nothing frightens me more/ Than religion at my door”). With the Velvet, Cale was the experimental guy, the Larsen master, the prince of noise, and would later go to extreme fits of violence on stage, but “Paris 1919” stands as a monument of subtlety and class, a musically complex yet organic sounding, lyrically oblique, a timeless piece of work.


Elliot Knapp said...

"Vaguely menacing"--that about sums it up! Just wrote about this one too on my music blog. Enjoyed this write-up!

khoral said...

Thanks! I'll check that.
This is surely one of the most subtle and intriguing album ever made.