John Cale


Mark Athitakis
July 19, 1997 11:00PM (UTC)

the finest homages to Andy Warhol recognize his infinite capacity to make stasis something active -- looking at his colorful repetitions of a single image, you realize just how busy and processed the world is. But he's also inspired an ugly tendency to throw any old junk together and call it "art." Such was the case with "Songs For Drella," former Velvet Underground members (and Warhol acolytes) John Cale and Lou Reed's slapdash tribute to the late artist. On "Eat/Kiss," Cale once again pays tribute to Warhol with soundtracks to two of his nervier films, but this time the results are more appealing. Moody, sweeping and occasionally brilliant, Cale combines both the outri and pop styles he's honed both with the Velvets and with nearly two dozen solo albums.

Not that he had much to work with. Warhol's 1963 film "Kiss" is three still shots of couples kissing, while 1964's "Eat" shows pop-artist Robert Indiana spending an entire hour eating one mushroom. But both the films and the music share an admirable sense of understatement. "Kiss" slowly moves from a gorgeous swell of pastoral swings (from the Soldier String Quartet) to African-flavored chanting (by Tiye Giraurd and Jimmy Justice) to -- in its most uplifting moments -- Cale's own dense wash of keyboards and ex-Velvet Maureen Tucker's heartbeatlike thrub on drums. The varied sounds collide against each other, but also mesh seamlessly. Like some of Cale's more experimental solo records (like "Fear" or "Music For a New Society"), "Kiss" conjures up a sense of both foreboding and joy, and often blurs the line between the two.

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"Eat" is a less effective piece, partially because it sounds almost too spare, centered on B.J. Cole's languid, repeated guitar figure, as well as some gloomy, nonsensical spoken word (some stuff about magicians and demons and lime-encrusted walls). Like "Kiss," it's a thoughtful and brave experiment, but it fails to make his avant-garde instincts listenable.


Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis is a regular contributor to Salon.

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