Even at 69, Cale is one of today’s music world’s most vital artists.
Chris Roberts 2011-09-16
John Cale’s new five-track EP conceives and executes more great ideas in 21 minutes than most musicians do in 10 years. It’s art-rock, but energised; fun, smart and sexy. It recalls a time when nearly all rock had to exhibit brain and heart as well as muscle, before the Oasis era of regression – and yet remains hotly topical and glisteningly modern. It’s the work of a master.
Domino must be rubbing their hands with glee at such a coup. For any children reading, Cale was, along with Lou Reed, the fulcrum of The Velvet Underground, before engaging on a durable career as solo artist, collaborator and producer of landmark albums. His vivid production here – a perfect balance of surprises and moving the ship forward – merits wonder. It seems almost unfair, then, that his voice, songs, lyrics and musicianship have hit new peaks. Reed may have taken an inspired leap with Metallica, but his old ally reasserts that you underestimate a Welshman at your peril.
Don’t be misled by the relative simplicity of the opener, Catastrofuk, in which Cale’s stentorian vocal fillets a chugging Greenwich Village guitar-riff to emerge with something sounding very Interpol. Whaddya Mean by That? follows; a pulse of melancholy. "Take me to your bedroom / Lay me on the floor," he croons, evoking both the kinkiness of Venus in Furs and the self-deprecation of Leonard Cohen. Cohen comes to mind again in Hey Ray (no relation to Sister Ray), archly comic industrial dub with timely shouts of "They’re having a riot" and "The Russians are coming". There are hints of Iggy’s The Idiot in the arrangements, and the mash-up of 80s electro-funk and Kraut-drone which platforms the sinewy Perfection also tips the hat to Bowie-Berlin.
This EP is a layer-cake of contrasts, and Pile A L’Heure sees Cale torch-singing in French over reverbed synths: it ends in a huge explosion that’s as much Hiroshima Mon Amour as Blockbuster. "Say hello to the future," states Cale; "say goodbye to the past". At 69, he’s one of today’s most vital artists, and next year’s full album promises to be white-hot and loaded.