On paper, the pairing
looked ideal: Two English art-rock legends, John Cale and Brian Eno, coming
together to craft the sort of buoyant, uplifting pop album that neither had
made in more than a decade. And the result, 1990's "Wrong Way Up," was
indeed a brilliant effort: a collection of 10 amazingly beautiful, wildly
inventive and instantly unforgettable tunes.
But as the cover art depicting daggers shooting between the two men
indicates, the making of the disc was anything but idyllic.
The Welsh-born, classically trained bassist, keyboardist and viola player
Cale was and is a rock legend, a founding member of the hugely influential
Velvet Underground who also has recorded more than a dozen classic solo
albums, in addition to producing the debut efforts by the Stooges, the
Modern Lovers, Patti Smith and Squeeze.
BRIAN ENO & JOHN CALE: 'Wrong Way
Up' (Warner Bros., 1990)
The track list:
1. "Lay My Love"
2. "One Word"
3. "In the Backroom"
4. "Empty Frame"
6. "Spinning Away"
8. "Been There, Done That"
9. "Crime in the Desert"
10. "The River"
Eno was among the many who'd been inspired by Cale's work in the Velvets.
He drew on their raw energy and dissonance first as the synthesizer player
in Roxy Music and then on four electrifying solo pop albums through the
mid-'70s: "Here Come the Warm Jets," "Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy),"
"Another Green World" and "Before and After Science."
From there, he abandoned rock to concentrate on ambient sounds -- sparse
collections of atmospheric instrumentals such as "Thursday Afternoon" and
"Music for Airports" that laid the groundwork for new age music -- though he
continued to produce other artists, including David Bowie, the Talking Heads
The two strong-willed giants had worked together before, when Eno
produced Cale's 1974 album, "Fear," and Cale performed on Eno's "Another
Green World." They also performed together live as part of the art-rock
supergroup captured on the concert album "June 1, 1974." They had always
shared an appreciation for each other's working methods -- both believe in
improvisation and encouraging "happy accidents" in the recording studio --
and they first reunited in 1989, when Eno went to Moscow with Cale to
produce "Words for the Dying," an album of Cale compositions performed by
the Orchestra of Symphonic & Popular Music of Gostelradio.
Tacked on to that album almost as an afterthought was a short, catchy
throwaway called "The Soul of Carmen Miranda" that Eno and Cale wrote while
fooling around in the studio. "It was kind of like ESP, the way it
developed, and I was really encouraged," Cale told me at the time. "I never
expected that Brian and I would work together on songs, so it was a
surprise. I thought that if we could reproduce the circumstances, we could
do the same thing for an album."
Eno fans had been asking for years when he would sing on album again --
the stacked harmony vocals on his pop albums was one of the highlights of
those discs -- but he'd been more interested in creating instrumental
landscapes. "If you look at the transition through my first three albums,
you'll see that the vocals occupy less and less of a place on those
records," he told me. "People always assume that the stuff with words is the
good stuff, the stuff that sold a lot and that everyone liked, and the other
[ambient] stuff was not so well-liked. In fact, the opposite is true. My
most popular record is 'Music for Airports.'
"I like the way I sing, but I never really expected anyone else to like
it," he said. "I think of my voice as a sort of precision instrument. It's
like a very sharp pencil. But most of the voices that people seem to like,
most of the people that get described as good singers, have these fantastic
paint brushes and great palettes of color."
Nevertheless, inspired by the chance result of "The Soul of Carmen
Miranda," Eno decided to sing again, and he invited Cale to spend at month
at his home and studio in Woodbridge, England. Hypnotic, driving and
ultramelodic songs such as "Lay My Love" (which would eventually be covered
by Chicago's Poi Dog Pondering), "Spinning Away" and "One Word" came
together in the studio as Eno created gently pulsing rhythm beds on the drum
machine and played swirling synthesizer and odd guitar parts while Cale
added regal piano, organ and viola. They both arranged the tasteful
contributions of a handful of outside musicians (notably the string players
who color several songs) and shared the vocal duties, Cale with his rich,
resonant baritone and Eno with his dirty choir-boy tenor.
The typically enigmatic lyrics were improvised at the mike. For
"Cordoba," a haunting tale of a terrorist searching for his mark, the two
musicians drew inspiration from a Spanish-language instructional text that
happened to be lying around the studio. They flipped through the book's
random sentences to find the most interesting, then strung them together to
create a creepy and mysterious story-song.
Though the collaboration yielded great results, from the beginning, the
artists made it clear that the chances of a reprise were slim. Eno issued a
press release at the time the album was issued, listing several obvious
questions and his responses. In answer to the query, "Do you plan to work
with John Cale again?" he wrote, "Not bloody likely."
"A lot of people, when you're going to do an album, give themselves more
time than what we were given," Cale elaborated. "When [Eno] was in the hot
seat all the time as the engineer, the host, as a creative artist, those are
things that you're really treading the light fantastic to think that
something isn't going to give there. I understand that he wants to be a
hero. Everybody in rock 'n' roll wants to be a hero. Then when things start
going wrong, you've got to be prepared to understand."
Still, "Wrong Way Up" stands as one of the best albums of either man's
career, and it remains a unique and captivating disc that draws the listener
in each and every time he or she plays it. Regardless of the turbulence
behind its making, Eno and Cale drew the best from each other.
"To me, the end result is a true collaboration," Cale said. "'One Word'
is a perfect example of collaborating: two personalities really fitting
together and even singing different things. I think that's ideal. I'm really
happy that we persevered."
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