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John Cale – Dancing Undercover (90s – 92)

September 23, 2011

Okay, so I should argue the case for Cale’s live version of “Hallelujah”, from the wonderful Fragment’s of a Rainy Season. For me it far better than the Jeff Buckley version – who was in fact covering the John Cale version. Maybe more on that later.

But my first encounter with John Cale was his 1996 album Walking on Locusts, of which this is the opening track. (Well… To be exact, my first exposure was the track Crazy Egypt, from the Rykodisc label compiltion Sonic Winter. I soon discovered 2UNE was also in possession of the track’s parent album.)

At the time I had never heard the Velvet Underground. I hadn’t heard of John Cale, didn’t know of his production work with the likes of Nico and The Stooges. The rediscovery of his  minimal viola excursion by the music criteratti was still several years away. Back in 1997, my only reference point to Cale was this album of polished, intelligent songs.

Cale reminded me of David Byrne – both looked distinguished while greying, both produced a style of pop which doesn’t sit squarely with the pop tradition I had grown up with. The music is pop songs, which hinting at something wider; genres he doesn’t quite fit.

“Dancing Undercover” is a perfect example – a countried jangle but filled with wit and sparkle. I still find the line about deadly nightshade amusing. Cale revels in what sound like a choatic road race, with missed meetings and mocking taunts.

Later I would hear his Fragments of a Rainy Season with a stripped back version of a large slice of his career, while later still I would hear the key albums of his hands helped bring into existance. But this song is my favourite – not the best maybe but definitely the one I most enjoy singing along. 

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