Vintage Violence by John Cale (1970 Columbia)

Categories: 1970 and Music.

I like Cale. I think he is often a great lyricist (except on Slow Dazzle, where he is lazy) and I think he was certainly the most musically interesting member of the Velvets. But he is not a great songwriter. He lacks a bit of an ear for melody. The only record of his that I really notice any strong melodies is 1919 (which has become my favourite of his) and even then it took me forever to get into that. I have this problem on everything I hear by him, he just doesn’t write compelling songs to back up his often great lyrics.

I think one reason why this record has been lauded so over the years is that Cale was – to those who were aware – an ex-member of the underground band. And his debut was nothing anyone was expecting. Moreover, like the Velvets own work, his debut was totally out of fashion… and literate. That combination can be like opiates to a music critic. So people went nuts.

I am not for a second trying to say this is a bad record. But it is saying something when the thing that I find most striking about the album is a bonus track which wasn’t originally included (“Wall”). It’s just sort of pedestrian rock and roll with very good lyrics. That’s okay, but I’m not sure this deserves it’s place as a classic which so many people (well, critics) seem to accord it.

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