April 9: John Cale, Gene Clark, Julian Cope, Foo Fighters, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Dennis Wilson

This week, we’ll be looking at what happens when people in critically-acclaimed bands go on to make albums with new musicians. Of course we’ve covered a few already: George Harrison, Brian Wilson and so on. Here’s seven more of the most prominent on the list.

John Cale, ‘Paris 1919’

Cale’s contributions in the Velvet Underground were most notable for their abrasive qualities – the screeching viola in ‘The Black Angel’s Death Song’ or ‘Venus in Furs’ come to mind – and much of his solo work is experimental dabbling along the lines of his almost-namesake John Cage. Here, though, he tempers his aggressive avant-garde tendencies for a more palatable, orchestra-heavy pop-rock sound, of the sort that Rufus Wainwright commonly deploys. The only obvious misstep is the gross Jools Holland boogie of ‘Macbeth’; elsewhere, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci were obviously among those paying attention to ‘Andalucia’ (also covered by Yo La Tengo). The album’s title (and some of its themes) is a reference to the Paris Peace Conference. Widely regarded as Cale’s best album, this one gets a recommendation.

Gene Clark, ‘No Other’

Coming off the back of a Byrds reunion album which showcased Clark’s talents prominently, ‘No Other’ was his fourth album, which he believed to be his masterpiece (unfortunately the public disagreed and ignored it). The first half of the album is something of a curate’s egg, mixing massed female vocals, country-rock and a stab at Sly Stone funk (on the title track). The second half of the album reverts to Neil Young-style folk-pop, which Clark seems more comfortable doing. I’m not sure I’ve made my mind up about this album overall: I suspect repeated listens will help it.

Julian Cope, ‘Peggy Suicide’

Cope had been done with The Teardrop Explodes for years before this, but the 1001 only has space for one of his solo albums, this cut from 1991. A relatively unheard album – only 5% of the Listchallenges.com community had heard it – ‘Peggy Suicide’ has stabs at frazzled acoustic tracks of the sort the Flaming Lips specialise in these days, incredibly dated-sounding baggy-ish indie, and diversions into funk, squally brass-heavy jazz and melancholy piano. Its downfall is its length: 18 tracks over 67 minutes, which would have benefitted from a more judicious editor. Top cuts are opener ‘Pristeen’ and the eight-minute ‘Safesurfer’, released as a single by someone with no interest in radio play.

Foo Fighters, ‘Foo Fighters’

Dave Grohl’s grizzling about kids not wanting to play rock music anymore despite contributing to the decline of guitar music with a series of mediocre records feels like the griping of an old man who thinks young kids just play noise. Twenty years ago though (twenty years!!), he was trying to find his place in rock music after Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Unsure that he wanted to play drums in another band, he made this album alone and put it out with a couple of musicians later recruited to tour it. This is a pretty good album: as well as ‘This is a Call’, there’s a song in 6/8, some lo-fi Sebadoh-ish songs, a bit of hard rock and the occasional acoustic break. Later albums were diminishing variations on this theme.

John Lennon, ‘John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’

I hadn’t liked anything from Lennon’s solo career: for example, the ‘Imagine’ album is pretty awful (the cheek of putting ‘Imagine’ on the same record as ‘How Do You Sleep’), but lo and behold, this is a good album! Stripped down to a minimalist trio with very little in the way of overdubs, it’s raw and intense, with more direct soul-baring than Lennon had customarily done in his sardonic Beatles contributions. There are no hits on this: so much the better.

Paul McCartney, ‘McCartney’

Meanwhile, McCartney had made a solo record before dissolving the Beatles, but its release accompanied the announcement of the Beatles splitting up. Blaming McCartney for the split, nobody bought this record (curiously the same fate also befell the ace ‘Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band’, as people blamed her for the Beatles split). The recording of this kind of reminds me of Graham Coxon: recorded alone in his home with some of the tracks barely graduating beyond sketches (many are instrumental). The actual sound mostly sounds like ‘Abbey Road’ – unsurprisingly – with McCartney’s clumping drumming approach instead of Starr, and it’s mostly pleasantly diverting without being particularly essential.

Dennis Wilson, ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’

The Beach Boys’ drummer kept trying to contribute his songs to the band, but were rejected for being too melancholy, so he recorded them and put them out on an album without them. The sombre tone of a lot of the songs here would seem like odd fits on Beach Boys records (even ‘Surf’s Up’): perhaps the band had a point. Wilson’s husky, heroin-shot vocals over orchestral arrangements reminded me a lot of mid-era Eels. There are occasional shifts in the wrong direction – lumpen thudding on ‘Time’, a clumsy Stevie Wonder parody called ‘You and I’ – but the majority is good. Recommended tracks include the title track, ‘Farewell My Friend’ and opener ‘River Song’.

Next week: it’s another (and one of the last) If I Must weeks!

Status update: 471 listened to (47%), 530 remaining.

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Author: JT Wilson

Listening to all of the albums in the '1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die' book (2006 edition).

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