"This is the 2nd album in the "Island trilogy", and possibly the least consistent. Cale asserts his genius all over this disc, but it's not as consistently engaging as "Helen of Troy" or "Fear." But, like all of his early to mid 70s work, he continues down his own eclectic, versatile path, alternating between weak-in-the-knees gorgeous pop, somber ballads, violent exercises in primal scream therapy, suicidal funeral dirges, and gritty rock 'n roll.
On the powerfully dramatic opener, "Mr. Wilson," Cale is in top form, generating a dark, pounding yet beautiful pop ode to the genius of Brian Wilson (a huge influence on Cale's work). What makes the song so cool is that it doesn't sound very Wilsonesque until the end with its spine-tingling coda. The verses and choruses feature tensely pounded electric piano and sharp, aggressively bowed (and scraped) strings, while the mesmerizing, soulful bridge, with its cool glockenspiel part, could've been written by Curtis Mayfield. Brilliant.
From there, the album down-shifts into the soothing melodic pop of "Taking it All Away," a pretty song with bitter lyrics, presumably about Cale's disfucntional love-life. The album slides downhill for a bit after that. You've got sleazy, cheap sounding 12-bar raunch more or less taking up the next 3 songs until Cale's gut-wrenching take on "Heartbreak Hotel." Completely unrecognizable from the original version, Cale turns it into a frightening, dark, harrowing vision with his tortured shouting and a scalding, sinister musical attack.
The rest of "Slow Dazzle" stays more or less on track, with the catchy "Ski Patrol," the bitter, violent imagery of "Guts," and the lush, orchestral, Bacharach-tinged "I'm Not the Loving Kind." "Guts" is particularly noteworthy for its subject matter: the first few lines are about Kevin Ayers, who Cale found out had slept with his wife. Cale spits his resentment through gritted teeth, barely hiding the sheer disgust he must have felt about his marriage goning sour. Few singer/songwriters make music as intensely personal as this.
Finally, "The Jeweller" closes the album as a lysergic, spoken-word piece/acid trip about a guy who loses an eye, only to wake one night finding it replaced by... well, Amazon will edit this out if I tell you the rest. It's also worth mentioning that "Slow Dazzle" has the cleanest sounding production of the 3 Island releases. The high points on this album do much to confirm Cale's role as a highly influential and seminal artist."
It All Comes Together
krimboy | Australia | 06/03/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Even die hard John Cale fans have to admit he's a frustrating artist who in admirably resisting pigeon holes has at times made himself decidedly difficult to warm to. On Slow Dazzle however he clearly settled on a genre he liked for a moment and absolutely nailed it. Yes, its possible to argue that by focussing his vision so tightly he deprives the 'true' fan of the eclectic weirdness that characterises so much of his work but on the other hand it does mean he delivers a superbly tight and coherent slab of dark rock and roll. And dark it truely is. Once you've heard Cale's intensly menacing version of Heartbreak Hotel its hard to ever take the original seriously again. Sometimes criticised as too commercial because of its clean and punchy production, Slow Dazzle shines with repeated listenings. The tortured love songs, the twisted narrative, the glorious pop sensability, they're all there. Not so much a slow dazzle as an immediate, enduring, and dazzling tour de force."
Brilliant and underrated.
Michael Stack | North Chelmsford, MA USA | 03/31/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a superb record, but its of marginal value with "The Island Years", which has Cale's entire output from his time on Island and (at least as I write this) is comparably priced to this release. All three Island albums have something to offer, and there's some extra material on the set.
While "Fear" is typically considered the peak of Cale's Island output, I actually much prefer "Slow Dazzle"-- it doesn't quite have the heights of "Fear", but it doesn't have as much of the fluff that album has either.
Before going any further, let's talk about "Heartbreak Hotel"-- its certainly the most stunning and memorable moment on the album. No doubt likely to horrify any Elvis fan, this is something-- often considered the pinnacle of inspiration for the goth movement, "Heartbreak Hotel" features heavy, distorted guitars, a wailing synth line, and hissed and screamed vocals from Cale. Its really stunning on first listen, brilliant on subsequent. This alone makes the album worth having.
But that's not all the great work on the album, Cale maintains the sort of haunted mood on the record, regardless of form-- his Brian Wilson tribute ("Mr. Wilson"), a brilliant tribute soaked in early '70s Beach Boys-style rhythms and surf harmonies at the tag and with more than a couple overt Beach Boys lyrical references is brilliant with its sense of a haunted melancholy. "Taking It All Away" and "Darling I Need You", similar in feel (midtempo rock pieces) both express different takes on this sort of thing, the latter in particular is really quite brilliant. And then there's the two great rock songs, "Dirty Ass Rock 'n' Roll" and "Guts"-- both keeping up the album's attitude, both are great, great, songs, compulsive, powerful, Cale's half shouted vocal is brilliant. Ditto for "Rollaroll", although the composition is a bit weaker and it doesn't stand up well next to these two.
Cale does mix it up a bit, the pop "Ski Patrol" fails pretty bad in my book, and the bizarre spoken word piece, "The Jeweller" is beyond explanation (ten years I've been listening to this album, I still can't make up my mind about it), but the pretty ballad, "I'm Not the Loving Kind" (and still with that haunted feel), featuring a melancholy, stunningly resonant, wordless chorus vocal from Cale, is essential.
Bottom line, "Slow Dazzle" is in my assessment one of the true gems in the Cale catalog, highly recommended, but "The Island Years" is a much better value."
Possibly John Cale's Best Solo Album!
M. Scagnelli | Brandon, Florida | 05/17/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Slow Dazzle is truly an incredible album. It was released at the peak of Cale's career; The Island Years. Cale released three albums for Island Records. The first of these three was Fear, which rivals this album as Cale's best. This album, Slow Dazzle, was the second release on Island. The third and final was Helen of Troy, which is another great album. All three of these albums would get five stars. Slow Dazzle, however, may top them. Other than The Jeweller, this album isn't very experimental. Cale was just playing "Dirty-Ass Rock'N'Roll." This album is almost commercially acceptable. Almost. Also, besides Heartbreak Hotel, Cale doesn't snap during the middle of any of the songs. However, not being so expeimental and not going temporarilly insane during the middle of a song can be good or bad qualities. With this album, it works. Songs like Dirty-Ass Rock and Roll, Darling I Need You, and the gloomy version of Heartbreak Hotel are three of Cale's best songs. This album is essential to any fans of Cale, VU, or Reed. Buy it."
MIND BLOWING ROCK
Pieter | Johannesburg | 06/29/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As a unit, this is Cale's best album. The sequence of Dirtyass Rock 'n Roll, Darling I Need You & Rollaroll is out of this world, a hypnotic tour de force with disturbing cinematic imagery e.g. "... Chuch of Christ Jesus Kentucky/Rattlesnakes and strychnine and prayer ..." Guts is an amazing piece of psychotic rock. Ski Patrol is a haunting ballad that reminds me of a John Berryman poem, "Song Of The Tortured Girl." Other favourites include I'm Not The loving Kind and Taking It All Away, both slow sad songs. I'm not crazy about Mr Wilson or his gut-wrenching take on Heartbreal Hotel but most of the critics and his fans are! Buy this album but also investigate the compilation "Seducing Down The Door.""