ALBUM REVIEW: JOHN CALE – SHIFTY ADVENTURES IN NOOKIE WOOD

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John Cale is a bit like Neil Young, seeing as he’s practically done it all. He’s created seminal albums as a member of the Velvet Underground. He’s worked with John Cage on classical music pieces and he’s produced records by a veritable who’s who of music. But it seems like Messer Cale is still a little restless for change because at age 70 his fifteenth solo album and first record in seven years shows he has absolutely no signs of slowing down.

Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood is all about thumbing expectations. From the crazy title through to Cale’s divergence from the elder statesman’s more expected route. As his peers confine themselves to adult contemporary music, wistful crooning and the nostalgia trail, Cale has gone the opposite way. Instead he employs all manner of sonic gadgetry to offer something experimental, quirky and absolutely relevant.

The opening track has the Prince-inspired title, ‘I Wanna Talk to U’ and is the only song from the 12 that Cale allowed to be produced by an outsider. Here, he worked with Danger Mouse for a thumping track that starts slowly but builds into a completely groovy operatic opus. It’s also the equivalent of Cale taking the listener by the lapels as he sings: “Heya, wake up/ I wanna talk to you”.

‘Scotland Yard’ was inspired by London’s riots and it’s almost as if Cale is recording the music from the ground as the aggressive, mob spirit creates a real stomper full of gritty guitars and insistent beats. Cale also sounds a lot like Ian Curtis here, which should be taken as utmost praise. It’s a shame that during other songs his strong, baritone vocals are modified by a vocoder and auto-tune. It’s a shame because his voice seems to have escaped the ravages of time, so the technology seems completely unnecessary and overbearing.

There’s the ghost-like ‘Hemmingway’ before Cale turns his mind away from literary masters and instead settles on a German band called Can as the next source of inspiration. In ‘Face to the Sky’ some fuzzy distortion is created by layering chequer boards of electronic blips over the top of one other (these in turn, were created by pianos being smacked and some tortured viola, among other instruments).

If there’s one song that John Cale resembles Neil Young on the most, then it’s ‘December Rains’, because here he turns grumpy and attacks Google. He laments the loss of your private life in the modern world. It’s a great message but it’s a shame that such a personal note is delivered in a robotic voice (thanks vocoder) because it would’ve been more meaningful without it. On ‘Mary’ he returns to introspection in its more traditional form, with a warbling, piano ballad.

John Cale had previously described this record as: “A dark, fantastical place with a strange warm breath” and “A dark swamp where naughty things happen”. After numerous spins (that reward with some newly-discovered texture or previously glossed-over element) you can tell that Cale has got it just right. Cale’s brand of le noise is rather left-field and the lyrics are cryptic and yet the music is accessible, enjoyable and so darned interesting. This trip is one adventure through sonic kaleidoscopes that smart, rattle and rage. And by golly, Cale has STILL got it.

Originally published on 9 March 2013 at the following website: http://www.thedwarf.com.au/album_review/john-cale-shifty-adventures-in-nookie-wood-1

Visit The Dwarf’s homepage at: http://www.thedwarf.com.au/

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