John Cale John CaleShifty Adventures In Nookie Wood
Over a career spanning half a century, John Cale has traced many trails; from drone to folk, avant-garde experimental to proto-punk. Since leaving The Velvet Underground in 1968, he has released around 30 albums, producing – amongst others – the debuts of Patti Smith, The Stooges and The Modern Lovers. In short: John Cale has nothing to prove.
Without the over-riding compulsion to impress, John Cale is free to do as he pleases. This has its cons. John Cale is free to call his album “Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood”. John Cale is free to make all-too-liberal use of a vocoder. Thankfully, however, the positive qualities of this album far out-weigh the aforementioned.
The album opens with “I Wanna Talk 2 U”, produced by Danger Mouse. It’s a swaggering treat of a track, with shimmering guitars, a driving bass and a pleasingly seedy underbelly. Like descending the stone steps into a downtown club, you can feel the stale smoke on your skin as you breathe in the faded glamour of the sticky velvet seats. It’s screaming to score a Ryan Gosling smoulder.
“Vampire Café” is a similarly satisfying slice of twisted pop. It stutters along like a faulty wind-up toy, all melancholic, mechanical melodies, a dystopian Disney out-take. With glorious backing vocals (that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Cohen classic), an unsettling piano line and the lingering ghost of a viola; this is a real stand-out track. “Living With You” is also a highlight. A heart-wrenchingly tender cut, with an engaging vocal line, the closest Cale’s distinct baritone gets to a Scott Walker croon.
At 70 John Cale still boasts the enthusiasm and curiosity of a man 50 years his junior; but never fails to imbue his verve with half a century of experience. Pop, punk or classical: the man knows how to construct a tune. On “Mothra” Cale sings “try something new today”. Admittedly taking the lyric completely out of context, this is how Cale ensures his relevance. He does not stand still, a sonic-pioneer, never resting on his laurels. Granted “Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood” does not seer with the vital immediacy of some of his adventures, but not all paths lead to brilliance. The key point is that 50 years on John Cale is still forging new trails; and I for one am still eager to follow.