In a musical catalogue as rich and diverse as the one built by John Cale, there’s no such thing as an outlier release. All his albums carry an indelible Cale stamp: whether exploring Beach Boys inspired classic songcraft on his early-1970s albums, trading fuzzed out organ riffs with Terry Riley on Church Of Anthrax, essaying modern classical miniatures on The Academy In Peril, through to the confrontational and gritty Sabotage, the art house film soundtracks for Les Disques Du Crépuscule.
The premise of 1989’s Words For The Dying therefore might sound somewhat bizarre, but the results speak for themselves. The album consists mainly of oral work, read or sung by Cale. It was written in 1982 as a response to the Anglo-Argentinian Falklands War, using poems written by fellow Welshman Dylan Thomas. Originally performed live for Dutch television at the Paradiso in Amsterdam in November 1987, with the studio version finally being laid down partly in the pre-Glasnost USSR, utilising the Orchestra of Symphonic and Popular Music of Gostelradio. As well as “The Falklands Suite”, there are also two orchestral interludes, two other solo piano pieces, "Songs Without Words", and finally "The Soul of Carmen Miranda", featuring Cale’s voice and a minimal electronic backing track. The album was recorded in Moscow, New York, London and Suffolk, England, and was produced by Brian Eno.
Eno and Cale had collaborated numerous times before, appearing on each other’s solo records in the 1970s, releasing a live album alongside Nico and Kevin Ayers, and the year after Words For The Dying came out, they released their one and only co-billed album, the much-loved Wrong Way Up. The process of making Words For The Dying was documented in a monochrome fly-on-the-wall film by Rob Nilsson, capturing the sometimes tense process of bringing Cale’s artistic vision to life. Lou Reed selected the album as one of his 'picks of 1989', and in its retrospective review, Fact Magazine described it as "arguably the last great album John Cale recorded".