The rise of the punk/new wave scene finally provided John Cale with a context in which he didn't seem that much more eccentric than the other musicians surrounding him, and after reintroducing himself to the new audience with 1979's purposefully aggressive Sabotage/Live, recorded on-stage at CBGB and filled with bleak rants about global militarization, he released Honi Soit, his first studio album in six years. Honi Soit was considerably more polished and stylistically eclectic than Sabotage/Live, but Cale had hardly shaken off the intense paranoia and foreboding echoes that dominated the previous album, and if anything the cleaner surfaces of Mike Thorne's production and the efficient, no-nonsense support of Cale's road band of the moment brought the album's psychodrama to a finer point; Honi Soit rivals Fear as the most lividly uncomfortable album in Cale's catalog, and that's saying something. While there are a few moments of relief -- the languid "Riverbank," and the pop melodies of "Dead or Alive" and "Magic & Lies" -- more typical are the battlefield nightmare "Wilson Joliet," the bemused espionage of "Strange Times in Casablanca," and the paramilitary ranting of "Russian Roulette." Probably most telling is "Magic & Lies," which starts out with an upbeat keyboard pattern Barry Manilow would envy, and ends in a barrage of crashing drums and swooping bass swells that closes the album like a lid slamming shut on a coffin; here even Cale's token upbeat numbers wouldn't escape his overpowering sense of dread, and on Honi Soit there is no corner sunny enough to escape the shadow of World War III.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming