By the 1970 release of Vintage Violence, John Cale had been deeply involved in the creation of albums that shook the world to its very core (as a performer on the first two Velvet Underground albums, as producer/multi-instrumentalist on Nico's Marble Index, and as producer of the Stooges' first album) and that continue to reverberate to this day. Based on these associations, speculation ran high as to the nature of Cale's debut solo work. Few were prepared for what Cale actually had in store.
The cover photograph on Violence is a closeup of Cale's face behind a plastic mask, which is transparent yet completely obscures Cale's features other than his piercing eyes. Cale reveals very little, and because only he knows what he will create next, he remains a shrouded mystery. The musician's view of his audience, however, is unobstructed: He observes us even as he hides in plain sight. It's a deceptively simple but incredibly layered metaphor that turned out to be perfectly appropriate for his first album. Piano-based with flourishes of pedal steel, guitar, and viola, the original release of Vintage Violence was a breathtaking slice of baroque pop with an uptown, art-crowd edge and a veritable blueprint for everything that Cale has subsequently recorded. Cale's heady mix of bouncy pop ("Adelaide," "Hello, There"), understated symphonic rock (the countryish "Big White Cloud," the gorgeous "Gideon's Bible"), and big electric folk ("Bring It On Up") was so unexpectedly gentle that it was subversive, particularly in light of its rejection of fashion, convention, and Cale's own history.
In the 30 years since the release of Vintage Violence, Cale has more than delivered on the album's ambitious promise. Just as it unfolded one surprise at a time, so too did each successive Cale album and project. This sparkling reissue of Vintage Violence reminds us that only a rare handful of musicians truly deserves to be referred to as artists.
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