John Cale

Animal Justice

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Marking John Cale's comeback to recording after two years in the label-less wilderness, the Animal Justice EP arrived in the immediate aftermath of the former Velvet Underground-er's most controversial performance yet, a Croydon Greyhound gig that culminated with the beheading of an (already dead) chicken. Cale's band quit in horror, the media threw its hands up in disgust, and even the supposedly blood-craving hordes of London punk were left feeling somewhat queasy. Cale, of course, remained unrepentant -- so much so that he promptly wrote a song about the incident, opening the EP with the grinding "Chicken Shit," and the only downside of the whole affair was that the song really wasn't one of his best. It is, however, the only weak spot on Animal Justice. A tight reinvention of Chuck Berry's "Memphis" grinds on the same misbegotten, riff-laden malevolence as his takes on "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Pablo Picasso," with Cale's vocal pregnant with so much menace that, quite frankly, one cannot blame the song's female antagonist from barring him from ever seeing little Marie again. He'd probably cut her head off as well. Similarly effective is the closing "Hedda Gabbler." Anthemically atmospheric and stretched over eight minutes of increasingly taut keyboards and windstorm, "Hedda Gabbler" takes Ibsen's heroine of the same name to new heights of world-weariness, imprisoned in a closeted world of upper-class nuance, where "dear Adolph is going to save all Germany," whether Germany (or anyone else, for that matter) wants to be saved or not. It was all a far cry from the electric jerk of Cale's best-known and, at the time, best-loved material, one reason why period reviews of Animal Justice proclaimed themselves bored long before the record was over. Time, however, has revealed secrets that short, sharp, shock-hungry fashion was never going to unearth, and "Hedda Gabbler" is now proclaimed among the very best records John Cale ever made. With "Memphis" running that same title close, Animal Justice can only be ranked among the true must-haves in Cale's ever-lengthening canon.