John Cale: Vintage Violence (1970)

Given that John Cale was a member of the Velvet Underground for its groundbreaking and boisterous first two albums (departing before the largely quiet, meditative self-titled third album), and appears at least partially responsible for the more challenging and avant garde aspects of the band's sound (compare the early Lou Reed acoustic demos on the Peel Slowly & See box set with the finished products), Cale's early solo albums were somewhat surprising. Far from the blistering noise of White Light/White Heat, Cale's early work was lush, often piano-driven adult pop, comparable with post-Brill Building offbeat singer-songwriters like Todd Rundgren.

His 1970 debut is often pretty, and occasionally downright chipper. Opener "Hello, There" is an upbeat, perky tune that sounds almost like something out of a Broadway cast recording (with a hook later called to mind by Wilco's "Wilco (The Band" single). "Adelaide" is similarly joyful, uplifting pop, unexpectedly ingratiating, as is album closer "Fairweather Friend." A personal favorite is the majestic, sweeping "Big White Cloud," a slow-moving, absolutely gorgeous epic (and arguably a blueprint for the similar "Taking Tiger Mountain" by Brian Eno, with whom Cale would periodically work over the years). "Please" is nearly as gorgeous, Cale harmonizing with himself, the cryptically odd lyrics somehow almost sounding profound amidst the busy guitars and keyboards. "Charlemagne" is another pretty one, while "Bring It On Up" adds a surprising Americana vibe, shades of what the Stones would be doing over the next couple years (compare, e.g., "Loving Cup").

Some Cale fans take the bold position that, if anything, his 70s solo work out-shone Reed's; that may be an overstatement, given Reed's unique lyrical voice and stand-outs like Transformer and Berlin, but Cale's run of 70s albums -- 1973's Paris 1919 and 1974's Fear continued in a similar vein, increasingly ambitious with greater throwbacks to the Velvets' edginess -- was packed with lesser-known gems and was certainly more consistent than Reed's erratic output. Worth a listen for fans of early 70s pop who may have steered clear of Cale expecting something different.

Here's an audio rip of "Big White Cloud":
 ...and a rip of "Adelaide":
Here's a live performance of "Hello, There":