Cult Classic: Eno/Cale-Wrong Way Up.

Brian Eno and John Cale first worked together in 1974, when they also recorded the album June 1, 1974. When it was released twenty-seven days later on the ‘28th’ of June 1974 it was credited to Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Brian Eno and Nico. Two of the three men who played on the album became friends and worked together on several occasions.

Sixteen years after Brian Eno and John Cale took to the stage at the Rainbow Theatre in London to record June 1, 1974 the two friends were reunited. Unsurprisingly there was sign of Kevin Ayers at Brian Eno’s Wilderness Studio, in Woodbridge, Suffolk when recording began in April 1990. The pair had history.

It’s alleged that the night before the recording of June 1, 1974 that John Cale found Kevin Ayers sleeping with his wife. That was why there was a tense atmosphere as the all-star band took to the stage and also explains the bemused stare that John Cale is giving Kevin Ayers on the album cover. The Velvet Underground cofounder took his revenge the following year.

When he was recording his solo album Slow Dazzle he included he wrote Guts which opens with the line: “The bugger in the short sleeves fucked my wife.” It was no surprise when Brian Eno and John Cale decided to record an album together Kevin Ayers played no part.

Instead, it was just Brian Eno and John Cale that began recording Wrong Way Up in April 1990. By then, they had written nine new tracks and Brian Eno had penned The River. These eleven  tracks were recorded between April and July 1990 and would eventually feature on Wrong Way Up.

At Wilderness Studio, Brain Eno sang lead and backing vocals and played bass, guitars, Indian drum, keyboards, little Nigerian organ, Linn M1, rhythm bed, Shinto bell and Yamaha DX7 synth. John Cale added backing vocals and played bass, dumbek, harp, horn, keyboards, piano, Omnichord, strings and viola. During the session, Brian Eno and John Cale were augmented by some of their musical friends.

This included drummer Ronald Jones who also played tabla, bassists Daryl Johnson and Dave Young who played guitar and rhythm guitarist Robert Ahwai. They were joined by violinist Nell Catchpole and Bruce Lampcov who added backing vocals and engineered John Cale’s vocals on Wrong Way Up.

The songs often took shape late at night as Brian Eno locked himself away and developed lyrics through singing sing nonsense words so he could create cadences which he then developed into syllabic rhythms. The next stage was to create phrases and then melodies. It was the way that Brian Eno worked and it worked for him.

So did the way the arrangements were crafted and complimented the vocals. A sequencer and synths were used and combined with what was an eclectic selection of traditional and ethnic instruments. They feature on Wrong Way Up which was produced by Brian Eno while John Cale only was given a co-producer’s credit. This raised eyebrows when the album was released in the autumn of 1990.

By then, the two men were openly admitting that they hadn’t gotten on during some or even much of the recording sessions. It also came to light that Brian Eno had allegedly called John Cale “irrational.” The sessions seem to have been difficult.

Later, John Cale recalled how Brian Eno: “would listen to what you said, but he really didn’t have much patience with it…I haven’t figured out yet what Brian’s notion of cooperation, or collaboration, is.”

John Cale also admitted during the session he was missing his wife and young daughter. He was suffering from “cabin fever” and the tension between made things worse. Things came to a head when John Cale alleges that he saw an irate Brian Eno coming towards with a chopstick clenched in his hand. After this, a panic-stricken John Cale phoned his manager to tell him he needed to book into a hotel. This Brian Eno has no memory of disputes. However, given all that had happened it was no surprise that with Wrong Way Up complete there was no plans to record a followup to the album that was released thirty years ago.

On the ‘5th’ of October 1990 Brian Eno and John Cale released their first collaboration Wrong Way Up to critical acclaim. Only a couple of contrarian critics found fault with what was a carefully crafted album of mainstream album with commercial appeal. Maybe the contrarian critics thought that Brian Eno and John Cale were selling out?

If that had been the case, Wrong Way Up wasn’t a particularly profitable venture as it failed to chart in Britain or America. Things didn’t improve when Been There, Done That was released as a single in America and failed to trouble the Billboard 100. However, it reached number eleven on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. That was as good as it got became when Word was then released in Britain and America it failed to chart. Brian Eno and John Cale’s collaboration Wrong Way Up had passed record buyers by.

It’s an album that was made despite the personality clashes between two musical icons. It could’ve been a recipe for disaster putting two strong willed characters in the same studio for three months while they recorded an album. However, the album was finished although there was no followup. That was a great shame.

Wrong Way Up featured music that was atmospheric, cerebral, hopeful and sometime cinematic and beautiful. It was an accessible album that featured elements of ambient stylings, art pop, art rock, electronic music, pop and progressive rock that features mainstream music that should’ve appealed to a wide audience. Proof of this is the album opener Lay My Love and Spinning way which are poetic pop penned by Brian Eno and both feature peerless electronic arrangements with the latter augmented by sweeping strings .

Very different is One Word where John Cale sings a line and is answered by Brian Eye. Then during the refrains, John Cale’s voice soars high above a choir of Eno’s on this thought-provoking and experimental track where art pop and electronica combine on a track that has an eighties sound.

In The Backroom was written by John Cale and is a mini-drama in four minutes. The arrangement is atmospheric, moody and cinematic as he paints pictures with his lived-in and weary vocal. It’s one of the highlights of the album.

Although Empty Frame was recorded in 1990 Empty Frame has an eighties sound in parts. This includes the drums and synths that feature on a track rich in imagery. It’s about a never-ending journey on a ship and ironically features the line: “We have no single point of view.” It’s part of what’s an incredibly catchy and memorable track that sounds a bit like OMD who were influenced by Brian Eno.

Cordoba came about after Brian Eno read Hugo’s Latin-American Spanish In Three Months. This inspired this chilling, cinematic song about two men planning to plant a bomb on a bus. John Cale’s delivery is haunting and the scenes unfold in front of the listener’s eyes and they’re left wondering did they plant the bomb or not?

Cinematic describes Footsteps which is a three mini drama written by John Cale who delivers the lyrics. He sings of slight of hand, danger, drama and double dealing on what sounds like

the soundtrack to a film that has yet to be made.

One can’t help wonder what inspired Been There, Done That which was written by John Cale? It’s upbeat and catchy from the get-go as synth pop and art rock combine as he reflects on his life and what he thought were the best o times: “Thinking we were having a ball.” It’s only when someone says: “Been There, Done That” does his older and wiser self realises: “Been there, don’t wanna go back.”

Boogie woogie piano opens Crime In The Desert and drives this John Cale composition along. He paints pictures about Tucson and  Guadalajara and tells the story of a mysterious lady murdered and her ideas stolen. All this is part of another catchy and cinematic track from the pen of John Cale.

Closing Wrong Way Up is the ballad The River which features one of Brian Eno’s finest vocals. It’s a quite beautiful and haunting song with an understated arrangement that is the perfect accompaniment to the vocal.

For anyone yet to discover Wrong Way Up, which was Brian Eno and John Cale’s one and only collaboration it’s recently been reissued to mark the album’s thirtieth anniversary. There’s also two bonus tracks Grandfather’s House and Palanquin which were recorded during the Wrong Way Up session.

It was a session beset by personality clashes and where chopsticks were perceived as a dangerous weapon by John Cale.  The recording of Wrong Way Up was no ordinary recording session and the pair didn’t get on. Despite that, they spent three months locked in Brian Eno’s Wilderness Studios and drew on their past experiences to record their first collaboration. To do that, they combined elements of ambient, art pop, art rock, electronic music, pop, progressive rock and synth pop on Wrong Way Up. It wasn’t the album critics and record buyers were expecting from the two musical icons.

Brain Eno and John Cale released what was an accessible album of mainstream music that should’ve had commercial appeal.Sadly, Wrong Way Up failed to find the audience it deserved. It’s only thirty years later that Wrong Way Up is starting to receive the recognition it deserved and that record buyers are embracing an album that music’s odd couple spent three months recording. It turned out to be time well spent.

Cult Classic: Eno/Cale-Wrong Way Up.

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