John Cale

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Guts Review

by Dave Thompson

Released in spring 1977, with John Cale back on the road and reveling in the controversy created by the chicken-beheading incident, Guts was a solid reminder of the three albums he cut for Island earlier in the decade -- and which predicted the power and promise of punk with a passion that not one of the movement's other putative godfathers had ever truly communicated. Those original albums were already out of print at the time and, for an audience raised to expect outrage and violence, that may not have been a bad thing. Fear, Slow Dazzle, and Helen of Troy, after all, each packed their fair share of ballads and beauty, a happenstance that to punkier ears was akin to expecting the Stooges to play "No Fun" and getting "We Will Fall" instead. Guts cut away all of that, and diced instead into the soul of Cale's psychosis, from the grueling "Gun" to the turbulent "Fear" -- still one of rock's most foreboding "ballads" -- and onto what remain three of Cale's most legendary performances, a seething Quaalude drive through Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel," his hypnotic realignment of Jonathan Richman's "Pablo Picasso," and, edgiest of all, "Leaving It All up to You," a storm-tossed journey through the bowels of modern life crowned (as aghast period commentators never let listeners forget) by the anti-reassurance, "We could all feel safe/Like Sharon Tate." Its excellent track selection aside (only "Dirty Ass Rock and Roll" lets the side down), Guts distinguished itself further by extracting the Slow Dazzle outtake "Mary Lou" from the archive. But even without that bonus, the album emerged a best-of that actually lived up to its billing.

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