John Cale & Terry Riley – Church Of Anthrax (Esoteric Recordings)

John Cale is one of the most under-rated people in rock history, having almost single-handedly laid the musical and attitudinal groundwork for what would later be called alternative rock. In addition to giving the first two Velvet Underground albums their groundbreaking avant-garde edge, Cale also produced masterworks by The Stooges, Patti Smith and Modern Lovers, performed on great albums by Nick Drake and Brian Eno, and made his own brilliant solo album, Paris 1919. Church of Anthrax, his collaboration with minimalist composer Terry Riley, featured recordings made as far back as May 1969, making it the first album Cale recorded after leaving The Velvet Underground. However, it sat on a shelf for almost two years due a lengthy mixing process that caused Riley to walk out on the project in disgust. Given the participants and the vintage, it should have been a classic but it’s a missed opportunity – a collection of interesting ideas, but underwhelming executions. The opening title track is a nine minute improvisational jam that rhythmically reminds me of Can and electric-Miles Davis, but with Riley and Cale’s indulgent noodling ruining whatever coolness the song may have otherwise had. “The Hall Of Mirrors In The Palace Of Versailles” is better, with Cale and Riley’s meditations on the piano and soprano saxophone, respectively, beautifully intertwining with one another. “The Soul Of Patrick Lee” is the album’s only song with vocals, yet for some unknown reason they’re sung by Adam Miller, who sounds so much like Cale you wonder why he didn’t just record them himself (Miller would go on to write hit songs for teen sensation David Cassidy). “The Ides Of March” is another long improvisational piece, with dueling drums at the outset giving the track a New Orleans feel which Cale and Riley obliterate in a haze of minimalist piano attacks over the next 11 minutes. It ends with “The Protégé,” which sounds like a warm-up for Cale’s slithery trio of mid-‘70s rock albums. Cale and Riley spend just about all of Anthrax’s thirty-four minutes standing on the precipice of something great, without ever really finding it, leaving listeners frustrated.