INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Creem SEPTEMBER 1974 - by Colman Andrews
JOHN CALE: SLOW DAZZLE / KEVIN AYERS: SWEET DECEIVER
Few musicians know more about creating environments of sound than John Cale. He's the working-class Van Dyke Parks; he's Phil Spector with a snake up his sleeve. He's a mechanic and a carpenter and a football coach of music, an organizer of aural elements. Every line, every bar, every shred of noise seems to be deliberately in place. He probably even times precisely the laughs he hopes to get with his jokes (the old school glee club quality on Mr. Wilson, his imitation of Dylan imitating Jim Morrison on Dirty-Ass Rock 'N' Roll, his graveyard-shift rendition of Heartbreak Hotel - a minor classic of musical reinterpretation, by the way, in the same class with Alex Korner's Get Off My Cloud, Godfrey Daniel's Purple Haze, and Fats Domino's My Blue Heaven).
On Slow Dazzle, the musical tools Cale has to work with include Eno on synthesizer, British electro-folkies Pat Donaldson on bass and Gerry Conway on drums, Chris Thomas on violin and electric piano, and Phil Manzanera and Chris Spedding on guitars (one of whom, and I think it's the latter, plays a spectacular glowing, glowering blues solo on Rollaroll). As usual, he knows just what to do with them. The songs are pretty much formula Cale, with the exceptions of Heartbreak Hotel and a fable-reading-against-synthesizer called The Jeweller. It's good, dark, off-handed stuff, a little too cold to be visceral and a little too visceral to be cold - and I'm not sure if Cale has become more conventional or if we have just become too hip, baby.
Kevin Ayers' new effort is a real ho-hum of an LP, neither gross nor clever nor ironic nor dull nor annoying enough to make it worth much comment. Ayers' voice never quite works, no matter what he's trying to do with it (which, in the course of Sweet Deceiver, is quite a lot of different things). He sounds more like Cale all the time, but lacks Cale's manic grace as both singer and songwriter. (Cale, incidentally, has the perfect country-and-western voice: he sounds as if he sings standing up straight, chin thrust forward and arms folded. He'd be fantastic singing Folsom Prison Blues or White Line Fever or Mama Tried or maybe some of that great material Shel Silverstein keeps writing for Bobby Bare.)
One Ayers track, Guru Banana - sort of like what the record business used to call a "novelty number" - is a lot of fun, with Elton John playing ricky-tick piano and John Altman playing clarinet that seems to grin from stem to stem, but it hardly saves the album. Anyway, somebody like Ringo or Manhattan Transfer will probably do a smashing cover version of it before long.
Elton John plays on several tracks. The other excellent musician present guitarist/bassist/co-producer Ollie Haircut - formerly Ollie Halsall of the incredible Patto, etc. John Cale says he thinks Chris Spedding is the best guitarist in England today. I think Ollie Haircut is.