Mojo JANUARY 2017 - by Andrew Male


John Cale: Fragments Of A Rainy Season

A 2-CD reissue of the Welsh singer-songwriter's 1992 live LP proves that less is undeniably more, says Andrew Male.

Recorded at various locations during his 1992 European tour, Fragments Of A Rainy Season, appears in John Cale's chronology as the culmination of a six-year period in which the Welsh singer-songwriter and producer put his world in order. Starting in 1985, with the birth of his daughter Eden, and the untangling of The Velvet Underground's royalties, Cale ditched the drugs and booze, and the concomitant paranoia, and began to regard the world in a fresh, sober light.

However, if this newmodel Cale was a more mellowed individual, his friends still carried old enmities. Two Brian Eno collaborations - Words For The Dying's symphonic arrangements of Dylan Thomas poems, and the at-daggers synth-pop of Wrong Way Up - resulted in Eno attempting to attack Cale with a set of chopsticks, while his partnership with Lou Reed on the 1990 Andy Warhol tribute Songs For Drella ended with Reed's request that Cale's name be removed from the project.

Proof that Cale worked better alone was his game-changing 1991 reworking of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, where he ignored Cohen's helpful fax of fifteen verses and stripped the thing down to what spoke best to Cale. Similarly, Fragments Of A Rainy Season is the sound of a man stripping everything to essentials - voice, piano, acoustic guitar - and deciding that, for the time being, it might be best to work some things out on his own. Namely, who am I, or, more specifically, who was I?

Re-sequenced to the original 1992 setlist, this expanded reissue ends on Hallelujah but now begins with three spare reworkings of the Dylan Thomas adaptations. Delivered with an impassioned sincerity drawn from his chapel roots, they perfectly underpin the show's troubled autobiographical narrative, centred around the albums Cale recorded between 1973 and 1975, and 1982's bleak, blasted Music For A New Society.

Described in the press-notes as "[his] prettiest songs", in reality they are, like Cale's sung line from Thomas's Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed, "wounds wrapped in soft sheets". Tracks such as Fear, Guts, and his wracked cover of Heartbreak Hotel, present naked portraits of the rabid, paranoid personas Cale adopted and inhabited in the mid '70s.

Similarly, while evocative, narrative songs like Chinese Envoy, Paris 1919 and Buffalo Ballet glisten with a melodic innocence, like the Graham Greene novels that fed into them they also twitch with romantic interior unease, weighted with intimations of death.

The key to this duality is the plainness of the live arrangements. On an extra CD of outtakes, Cale is accompanied by small string section. Apart from a brilliantly uneasy Antarctica Starts Here, they don't work. It's all too much. Stripped to their essential core, they reveal themselves as simultaneously bleak and beautiful; the holy and the broken hallelujah.