[Review] John Cale: Fear (1974)

Nothing to be afraid of here. In fact, this is probably his most enjoyable album.

Kronomyth 5.0: Fear is the man’s best album.

John Cale rocks and the results are frighteningly good. Recorded with Brian Eno and Phil Manzanera, Fear is absurdly inventive, and Cale is quick to show off the fruit of its collective oddness on the opening “Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend,” which quickly morphs from a harmless pop song into mounting, elastic paranoia. From there, all bets are off as Cale and crew careen into rock’s conventions. “Buffalo Ballet” is gilded country pop, “Barracuda” is tickled by an ocean of tiny oddities, “Emily” is sweetness remembered, “Ship Of Fools” is otherwordly pop haunted by the spirit of Christmas.

Fear is a plate of succulent oddities until “Gun” arrives. Here, Cale manages to channel the dark energy of Lou Reed (or Patti Smith or The Stooges if you prefer) into eight minutes of bleak fury that move so purposefully it feels like four, and you begin to wonder whether John Cale isn’t some mischievous, mythical god among us, donning different forms to fight away the boredom of a life meted out in flinty minutes.

“The Man Who Couldn’t Afford To Orgy,” the album’s single, is actually the least interesting song on here, a male/female duet that plods along to some hoary country melody and only incites me to want to put The Kinks’ Soap Opera on the turntable. All is forgiven, however, with “You Know More Than I Know;” luminous genius, that. The album closes with another menacing rock/punk experiment, “Momomma Scuba,” featuring what sounds to be an army of guitars. I have enjoyed every John Cale album to date, but Fear is the man’s best album so far. Very fitting for his first on Island, since you wouldn’t want to be caught on one without it.

Original LP Version

A1. Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend
A2. Buffalo Ballet
A3. Barracuda
A4. Emily
A5. Ship of Fools
B1. Gun
B2. The Man Who Couldn’t Afford To Orgy
B3. You Know More Than I Know
B4. Momamma Scuba

All songs written by John Cale.

The Players

John Cale (keyboards, guitars, bass guitars, vocals), Doreen Chanter (girls), Irene Chanter (girls), Eno (eno), Archie Leggatt (bass guitars), Phil Manzanera (guitars), Fred Smith (drums), Liza Strike (girls) with Michael Des Maris (drums on B4), Bryn Haworth (slide guitar on B4), Judy Nylon (special guest on B2), Richard Thompson (slide guitar on B4), Brian Turrington (bass guitar on B4). Produced by John Cale; executive produced by Eno & Phil Manzanera; engineered & final mix by John Wood.

The Pictures

Photographs by Keith Morris.

The Plastic

Released on elpee on October 1, 1974 in the UK and the US (Island, ILPS 9301).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in Germany (Island, ILPS 9301) {blue label}.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1980 in the UK (Island, ILPS 9301) {custom label}.
  3. Re-released on remastered compact disc on January 29, 2013 in the US (Culture Factory) and on May 22, 2013 in Japan (Vivid Sound Corporation, VSCD-9124).
  4. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee on April 7, 2015 in the US (Wax Cathedral, MELT-012).
  5. Re-released on 180g white vinyl elpee in 2016 in Europe (Music on Vinyl, MOVLP1584).

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