Top positive review
33 people found this helpful
Album of Cale's career
on 6 October 2003
A review of a John Cale compilation in one of the popular music magazines a few years ago said something to the effect that "Cale is doomed to spend his whole career in the shadow of two albums he made in the late Sixties", referring of course to the groundbreaking work he did with the Velvets. In trying to escape that shadow, he has made some of the most consistently interesting music of the past three decades. It hasn't always been great, or acclaimed, but his wit and personality have ensured a cult following.
In this album, however, we can see a new John Cale, who has everything and nothing to do with any of that stuff. The first glimpse of the new John Cale (who is, finally, just the old John Cale, only older) came with the release of the "Five Tracks" EP, the best twenty minutes of music released in early 2003, but they are even more evident here. Some things about the new (old) John Cale:
Where the old (young) John Cale made angular songs that shifted radically from melodic melancholy to screaming art-rock, the new old new Cale is more subtle. The musical left turns are still here, but they are handled so elegantly that they feel as though they belong. This is partly to do with Nick Franglen's co-production, partly to do with Cale's beloved Pro Tools software, but mostly to do with Cale's maturity as a songwriter.
Another thing: the new John Cale really likes the Beta Band. Why does this matter? Because this is a thoroughly modern record. Just listen to his tortured falsetto howl on "Magritte" and you'd be forgiven for thinking that you were hearing the best thing Radiohead have ever done. It's not contrived in any way, though: Cale is not trying to be trendy, he is, as always, his own man.
The new John Cale is NOT a nihilist. There is anger here, but it is focused (as on the superbly accusatory "Zen"). None of the old cliches apply, so forget the following: Godfather of Punk! Classically trained! Avant-garde! Mates with Eno! If Cale can ignore these cliches long enough to make a relevent album, then so can you (and that goes for the music press as well).
Best cuts: the witty "Things", already a live favourite, its deranged deconstruction "Things X", the lovely "Caravan" and the devastating "Over Her Head".
All in all, the most intelligent, socially conscious and beautiful album of the year so far.
The Velvet What??