John Cale’s first full length release for seven years offers the perfectly balanced mix of innocence and experience you’d expect from a man who’d collect an OBE whilst sporting a mop of magenta hair.
Whilst it makes for a cohesive listen, the record draws on an abundance of genres. There’s Remain in Lightesque off-kilter funk (‘Scotland Yard’), gorgeously constructed halting beats ('Vampire Café'), creepy psychedlia ('Nookie Wood') and, in the odd blasts of screeching viola, there are, if you can believe it, even traces of The Velvet Underground.
Whilst Cale’s experiments hit numerous times (literally in the case of ‘Hemmingway’, which features the sound of a piano being repeatedly punched as part of its sonic texture), the album’s few misses are almost as admirable.
For example, It would be hard to argue that the use of auto-tune on ‘December Rain’ does much to augment the Welshmen’s sonorous voice (which is still in remarkable condition), but given the relentlessly inventive context, it hardly stands out as weak. And after all, how many other 70 year olds are willing to adopt new technologies into their creative process for the first time on their 15th record? That said, novelties are in no way the chief draw of these songs.
Cale’s not just been around the block, he’s seen it knocked down and rebuilt multiple times, and the inevitable musical maturity that comes with such longevity acts as a foil to some of his more leftfield leanings. Indeed, as joyous as the trademark moments of viola abuse are, and as intriguing as it is to see one of alt-rock’s founding fathers working with contemporary figures such as Danger Mouse (‘I Wanna to Talk 2 U’), the album’s most straightforward moments are some of its best. ‘Mary’, the only track baring even a slight genetic trace of his seminal album, Paris 1919, is probably the best thing here.