John Cale

Comes Alive

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Five years after delivering one of the crucial live albums of the 1970s, 1979's Sabotage/Live, John Cale turned around and unveiled one of the least necessary of the 1980s, a Comes Alive set that, frankly, should have been left for dead. The problem is not the performance -- circulating underground tapes of the show in London earlier that year catch Cale and his current band at the peak of their powers, punching through a set built upon, but by no means dependent on, the Caribbean Sunset album and delivering chilling interpretations of his most sainted oldies. "Waiting for the Man" was nightmarish, and "Pablo Picasso" positively surreal. But there was no room for the painter on Comes Alive, as a 90-minute show was slashed in half and the surviving tapes were so remixed that the very audience sounds like a sample. The result is an album so polished and lifeless that even the ghost of the live show went home before the end. Alarming, too, was the top-and-tailing of the disc with two new studio recordings, the Cale-by-numbers ballad "Never Give up on You" and the oddly amusing skip-rope parody "Ooh la La." The latter worked as a one-off single, in which form it first appeared the previous month; the former would have worked as a bit of album-filler. But they have nothing to do with the rest of the record -- and it has nothing in common with the rest of Cale's catalog. Stick to Sabotage/Live -- at least that sounds like it means what it says.

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