John Cale

Fear

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Right from the start, Cale makes it clear he's not messing around on Fear. If his solo career before then had been a series of intriguing stylistic experiments, here he meshes it with an ear for his own brand of pop and rock, accessible while still clearly being himself through and through. Getting musical support from various Roxy Music veterans like Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera, and Andy Mackay didn't hurt at all, and all the assorted performers do a great job carrying out Cale's vision. He himself sounds confident, sharp, and incisive throughout; his playing on both various keyboards and guitar equally spot-on. The almost title track "Fear Is a Man's Best Friend," starting with focused, steady piano into a full band performance before ending on a ragged, psychotic note, makes for as solid a statement of artistic purpose for Cale and the album as any. There's everything from slightly (but not completely) lugubrious ballads to bright, sparkling numbers -- "Ship of Fools" alone is a treasure; its steady, sweet pace and beautiful chorus simply to die for. Cale's own bent for trying things out isn't forgotten on the album, with his voice recorded in different ways (sometimes with hollow echo, other times much more direct) and musically touching on everything from early reggae to, on "The Man Who Couldn't Afford to Orgy," a delightful Beach Boys pastiche. As for sheer intensity, little can top "Gun," the equal of Eno's own burning blast "Third Uncle" when it comes to lengthy, focused obsession translated into music and lyrics. Having earlier experimented with his own version of country & western, "Buffalo Ballet" finds him creating something close to meta-country: stately piano and backing singing mixing with gentle twang. It practically invents Nick Cave's late solo career all on its own.

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