Release Date: Aug 8, 2011
Record label: Double Six
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
“Say hello to the future/ And goodbye to the past/ Hurry up through the present,” John Cale joyfully sings in “Catastrofuk,” the first track from the Extra Playful EP. As commonplace as this overheard statement might be, it pretty much sums up what the Welsh violist and composer has been doing since, basically, his involvement in the John Cage-produced 18-hour rendering of Erik Satie’s Vexations back in 1963. Perhaps playing a fraction of the 840 variation-less repetitions for piano of the same harmonically-unsolvable piece without a clear purpose helped to install an aimless causality in his musical vision — where the focus of temporal reference is blurred — moving away from any proclivity to follow a tradition and, most importantly, not attempting to establish one in the process.
I feel it’s a good idea to clarify at the outset that in this review I am writing about THE John Cale, i.e. the one from The Velvet Underground, the one who has been performing since 1963 and recording avant garde and experimental music for almost as long... 69-year old John Cale. Before I am castigated for ageism, I feel it necessary to clarify that this is an important point because it is unusual for someone at this stage of their life and career to take a pop direction, and yet with the first two tracks, at least, of new EP Extra Playful, this is exactly what Cale appears to have done.
On his new EP, Extra Playful, John Cale’s doing what he does best, which is toying with pop-rock sounds and structures. These five songs aren’t actually pop songs, but they could be if Cale allowed it. Even so, Cale doesn’t undercut them enough to really make a statement, and that’s not the point. There’s a bit of a toss-off feel here, especially with the relatively funny “Hey Ray”, and the disc serves as a fine break from more serious work.
"Say hello to the future, and goodbye to the past," declares John Cale on the first song on his new EP, and no doubt, he's earned the right to sing that line. For a good chunk of the past two years, Cale has been touring a front-to-back performance of his 1973 chamber-pop masterpiece Paris 1919, the most enduring and beloved album amid his sprawling post-Velvet Underground discography. Naturally, the process of revisiting a specific body of work night after night can't help but exert some influence on an artist's subsequent move, and Cale is no different.
If Lou Reed was the antihero figurehead of The Velvet Underground, then John Cale was the mad scientist in the background, his viola putting the art into VU’s stripped-down art rock on early masterpiece White Light/White Heat. As a solo artist, Cale has quietly remained on the forefront of the independent rock scene for more than 40 years, collaborating with or producing albums for Brian Eno, Nick Drake, Suzanne Vega, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Danger Mouse, and LCD Soundsystem. Now, in his sixth decade of making records, Cale has released a five-song EP that sounds as comfortable in the contemporary music world as anything by artists a third his age.
Even at 69, Cale is one of today’s music world’s most vital artists. Chris Roberts 2011 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.