To his chagrin, John Cale's record label released his unfinished demo tapes while he was busy producing Patti Smith's groundbreaking Horses. But to his surprise, the resulting album, Helen of Troy, is considered the most stylistically cohesive of the eclectic Island Trilogy, the trio of albums Cale recorded for Island Records during the course of 1974-75. Featuring Brian Eno's lithe synthesizer, Phil Collins' expert drumming, and Cale's manic streetwise songwriting, Helen of Troy delivers more sophistication than most final cuts, and cuts deeper in its roughness.
Back on domestic vinyl for the first time in decades, this RTI-pressed edition of Helen of Troy is cut at Mobile Fidelity by in-house engineer Krieg Wunderlich and features stunning sonics. Quiet surfaces, faithful artwork, and the opportunity to hear Cale's engaging fare unfold amidst wide soundstages and black backgrounds - not to mention the moody content within - make this Wax Cathedral LP a must for music aficionados.
From the celestial opening strains of ''My Maria,'' which sounds in places like a hymn, to the teeth-gnashing ''Sudden Death,'' Cale shows us heaven, hell, and the life in between. Employing a cocktail of wild experimentation, tonal versatility, and range of emotion, Cale's compositions whip from soaring serenades like ''I Keep a Close Watch'' to the unhinged, wild-eyed ''Leaving It Up to You'' (pulled from the original release due to its reference to the murder of Sharon Tate) to the soulful, surf-derived ''China Sea.'' Eno's synthesizer casts love spells and shadows while Chris Spedding's guitar drills bluesy, ragged holes through every composition. A tormented, sinister cover of the Modern Lovers' ''Pablo Picasso'' (Cale produced the Lovers' debut) shows what you get when you replace Jonathan Richman's dreamy smile with Cale's bared teeth.
Although we'll never know what the one-time Velvet Underground cohort had in mind for the finished product, with its labyrinthine arrangements, theatrical spontaneity, and primal rawness, Helen of Troy is a gem that's better unpolished.
Pressed at RTI
Cut at Mobile Fidelity by engineer Krieg Wunderlich
1. My Maria
2. Helen of Troy
3. China Sea
5. Save Us
6. Cable Hogue
1. I Keep A Close Watch
2. Pablo Picasso
3. Leaving It Up to You
4. Baby What You Want Me to Do?
5. Sudden Death