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Cale and Hearty John Cale releases POPtical Illusion David O'Byrne listens in

Cale and Hearty

John Cale releases POPtical Illusion David O'Byrne listens in

by David O'Byrne, International Desk
first published: June, 2024

approximate reading time: minutes

Pipe 'n' slippers time for John? Nope!

John Cale Poptical IllusionJohn Cale
POPtical Illusion
(Domino)
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At 82 John Cale could be forgiven for assuming he'd done enough for one lifetime. A child prodigy on the piano and viola, he was fast tracked to New York where he studied under and worked with legendary composers Aaron Copeland, Jon Cage and La Monte Young.

It was there, aged just 22, that he bumped into Lou Reed, co-founded The Velvet Underground and over just two albums together created a musical legacy that continues to resonate today. To say nothing of a subsequent solo career that has seen him working as either artist, musician, producer or collaborator with pretty much every major left field artist or band over the past six decades - discogs lists 272 album appearances alone. 

Time to put your feet up: pipe, slippers and the odd acceptance speech for lifetime achievement award maybe Nope, instead, he's just released a new studio album, POPtical Illusion, his 18th studio album - or 54th if we include film scores and soundtracks.

This new disc is the latest flower of a furious burst of creativity during the Covid pandemic which Cale claims caused something "to shift in his mind", inspiring him to compose more than 80 songs in little over a year. Thirteen of those appeared on last year's Mercy, and 13 more of are presented here.

Understandably perhaps given their genesis, the overall tone is reflective. Layered keyboards, drum machines and throbbing bass lines, meld with samples to create an often mournful but nonetheless varied backdrop. There are hints of Brian Wilson era Beach Boys in the vocal harmonies, of later period Beatles, of former collaborator Brian Eno and even, (surprisingly perhaps, but why not?), XTC and Paul Haig.

More predictably also a detectable, tacit nod to Bowie's last two albums, released when he too was contemplating his own mortality.

The laid back tempo on most tracks may seem starkly at odds with much of Cale's earlier solo works which could never be accused of shying away from either confrontation or controversy.

But there is also real anger and frustration here too tempered with his trademark surreal, sardonic observations.

Lyrics rail at the future of humankind, the state of the planet, and those "company commanders" he holds responsible. While Cale's vocals range from barely above a whisper on Edge of Reason to near operatic on the closing number "There Will Be No River" - despite the title, an oddly forward looking number buoyed on a melody picked out on viola and piano. 

While the overall tone of POPtical Illusion verges at times on the melancholic there are refreshingly upbeat moments. Not least on the single, Shark Shark, which with its metronome drumbeat and droning guitars nods more than a little to the early Velvets at their nihilistic best. 

Upbeat too is the unashamedly nostalgic "Wales and Davies" - Cale, whose middle name is Davies,  was born and grew up in a north Wales mining village.

A track also responsible for a moment of presumably unintentional humour. The chorus, even after repeated listens, still sounding for all the world like Windsor Davies - the late welsh actor whose catchphrase "Oh dear, how sad, never mind" may just also reflect Cale's attitude to aging.

David O'Byrne
International Desk

David O'Byrne is a former fanzine writer and indie band manager, turned full time freelance journalist, travel writer and occasional fiction author based in Istanbul.


about David O'Byrne »»

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