John Cale
Paris 1919

Released 1973 on Reprise
Reviewed by Serotonin, 04/02/2002ce

In general, I don't go for glossy production values in music; raw, loose and spontaneous is how I like my music to be recorded. This beautiful, sumptuous record, however, will always be the exception. The dramatic, sweeping orchestrations, subtly understated backing band and of course Cale's rich voice all add up to a heavenly half-hour of pure class; the musical equivalent of a vintage Cabernet.

A Child's Christmas In Wales opens proceedings in uptempo mood with piano, organ and slide guitar. Cale's lyrics, as they are for much of the album, are full of highly complex, intellectual metaphors, but are vested with emotion through his distinctive vocal delivery. The final slide guitar glissando segues into the next track, Hanky Panky Nohow. It's a brief and pretty orchestrated ballad, with some nice acoustic guitar and minimal percussion from a tambourine. Again, Cale sings his obscure lyrics full of emotion, making "There's a law for everything/And for elephants that sing to keep/The cows that agriculture won't allow" sound heartfelt and affecting.

The third song, The Endless Plain of Fortune, opens with Cale's stately piano and a backwards-recorded cymbal. Each of the three verses builds up to a dramatic climax with the full orchestra. Cale calms things down again with the beautiful Andalucia, a gorgeous, longing ballad, and the highest point of the album for me, if not one of the highest points of Cale's solo career. Its pacific calm is quickly cut down by the bombast of Macbeth, though, which is maybe why it's always been my least favourite track on the album. But on an album this perfect, it's still a great song, even if its rocked-up electric guitar freakouts do sound a little out of place among the other tracks.

Side Two of the album opens with the title track. Cale is singing with just the orchestra for backing, with choppy strings and bold brass. It's another uptempo one, apart from a calm instrumental section in the middle. The next song, Graham Greene, is the most rhythmic, almost funky, track on the album, and features the most entertainingly surreal lyrics. "Stiffly holding umbrellas/Catching the fellows making the toast" is my personal favourite couplet.

The album draws to a close with two more ballads. Half Past France features sparkingly beautiful lead guitar and washes of organ, with more emotive, longing lyrics. "We're so far away from home where we belong" is particularly affecting, as it's one of only two occasions on the album (the other being the "I love you"'s in Andalucia) where Cale drops the metaphors for straightforward emotional statement. Closing the album on a hushed, dreamy note, Antarctica Starts Here sees Cale softly whispering the lyrics, in complete contrast to the other songs where his gorgeous Welsh baritone is given full range. An understated backing of electric piano and acoustic guitar is only enlivened slightly by a wash of synthesiser midway through, before the electric piano calms things down again and slows the song towards the close of the album.

So draw the cutains, light the candles, pour the wine and immerse yourself in this lovely minature epic. I've heard this album hundreds of times and with each listen there's still little details to be picked out from the subtly perfect arrangements, still new images and emotions evoked from the mass of bizzare but beautiful lyrics. Enjoy.

Reviews Index