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The Academy In Peril

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Album Review

Taking a sidestep from his earliest solo efforts into an exploration of his classical training and influences — thus the title — Cale on Academy creates a set of songs that probably bemused more than one listener at the time of release. The predominantly instrumental release, which finds him working with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on two tracks, steers away from the more grotesque classical/rock fusions at the time to find an unexpectedly happy and often compelling balance between the two sides. Opening track "The Philosopher" signals this well, with a low-key acoustic guitar/drums rhythm accompanied by separate horn, string, and keyboard lines. The sound is at once thick and remarkably spare, a rejection of flash for mood setting without aiming toward the drones so prevalent in much of Cale's initial work. Restrained humor crops up throughout, a smart way to undercut any fusty claims of pretension. "Legs Larry at Television Centre" has Cale acting like a very uptight, controlling TV technical director "directing" the string quartet performance at the center of the song. "King Harry," the only song with lyrics, is a memorably whispered zinger at the dying figure of King Henry VIII, with Spanish and calypso touches on top of everything else. Much of the time the mood is, quite simply, serene and beautiful, an exercise of Cale's skills that impresses both technically and emotionally. "Brahms" is a fine example, a piano solo piece (thanks are given by Cale in the liner notes to Ron Wood, though what connection the then-Faces guitarist has to is unclear). When things are more quick in mood, as in "Faust," one of "3 Orchestral Pieces," one of the Philharmonic guest numbers, Cale has good fun applying rock arrangement and production tricks: compression, gentle flanging, drum rhythms, and so forth.

Biography

Born: 09 March 1942 in Garnant, Wales

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

While John Cale is one of the most famous and, in his own way, influential underground rock musicians, he is also one of the hardest to pin down stylistically. Much has been made of his schooling in classical and avant-garde music, yet much of what he's recorded has been decidedly song-oriented, dovetailing close to the mainstream at times. Terming him a forefather of punk and new wave isn't exactly accurate either. Those investigating his work for the first time under that premise may be surprised...
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The Academy In Peril, John Cale
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