Release Date: Oct 9, 2012
Record label: Double Six
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Experimental Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
For a 70-year-old man who occasionally dyes his hair pink and whose résumé includes seminal collaborations with Patti Smith, John Cage, and Andy Warhol, it’s hardly surprising that John Cale’s new album, Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood, is both provocative and strange. But despite avant-garde impulses that, in the past, have led Cale’s work into forbidding musical terrain, the album is also beautiful and inviting. In recent years, Cale, a founding member of the Velvet Underground, has proven himself to be both willing and capable of delivering consistently memorable album-oriented rock (Hobosapiens was exploratory and ornate, while Black Acetate was minimal, aggressive, and stark), and the artfully crafted Nookie Wood is no exception.
As French scribe Stendahl once observed, “The man of genius finds such joy in his art that he will work at it come hell or high water.” And four-and-a-half decades after the release of The Velvet Underground and Nico, it isn’t so much surprising that John Cale is still releasing records, but that his latest, the intriguingly titled Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood, should be shot through with such a forceful vitality and elation. Don’t come to it looking for melancholy orchestral sweeps or ponderous experimentation. Rather, it’s an immediate, utterly engrossing collection of hook-laden, distinctly modern rock songs, as vibrant as anything being turned out by the hipster kids.
As a musician and artist, John Cale really has nothing left to prove. He is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Velvet Underground, one of the most important rock bands ever. He has produced landmark albums for everyone from Nico and Patti Smith to the Stooges and the Modern Lovers. Though he has never been a best-selling artist, he has enjoyed a lengthy, uncompromising solo career, collaborating with Brian Eno and former bandmate Lou Reed among others.
Always the most avant-garde member of the Velvet Underground, John Cale's first new album since 2005 features pianos being hit by fists, screaming synthesisers and violas, insistent beats and Chic-style funk guitar motifs. There are nods to David Byrne and Wire's late-80s blend of instruments and technology, but much of it sounds like pop music made by or for Daleks. For all the sonic wizardry, the album's strongest suits are often the most traditional.
It's probably wishful thinking to interpret this rough gem of a record – released just before a lavish reissue of The Velvet Underground and Nico – as John Cale blowing a raspberry at the reverence his old band inspires. Even so, Nookie Wood finds him in rude creative health; a gruff, Pan-like affirmation of continuing musical restlessness. Nothing here is entirely unfamiliar: the title track creates a junkyard racket in the manner of Tom Waits, December Rains borrows its atmosphere from the noirish vocoder pop beloved of David Lynch.
Extra Playful was the title of John Cale's last release, his 2011 EP that saw him visiting much lighter territory than his fans had become used to over recent years. It turns out this was an aptly teasing title that suggested mischievous misdirection, as the poppier melodies that made up that record are eschewed for a greater sense of vintage violence on brilliantly-titled new album Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood. .
Audacious rock veteran emerges from new cocoon, glistening simultaneously fresh and accessible Because of his teenage collaborations with composer John Cage, the daring dissonance of his years as a multi-instrumentalist for the Velvet Underground and his occasional flirtations with noise and drone through the years, John Cale is often associated with the avant-garde, with experimental edge. In many ways, it’s warranted, but I think the notion unnecessarily scares away less adventurous listeners, which is a shame because, in reality, Cale’s music is almost always more accessible than one would expect. As a solo artist, collaborator and producer (with legendary artists like The Stooges, Patti Smith and Modern Lovers), he’s displayed an intrinsic, ingratiating pop sensibility, bolstered by flourishes of his diverse musical curiosities, which seep in like water through a crack in a dam.
Have you ever had one of those sticky cocktail shooters where each colourful liquor is layered on top of the last until you get a little potted rainbow of glorious alcoholic physics? At its best Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood, John Cale’s playfully odd fifteenth solo album, feels like that, with layers of droning viola and guitar giving shape and colour to squishy, processed beats. Whether intentionally or not he’s taking sonic cues from ‘I Wanna Talk To U’, the largely improvised Danger Mouse collaboration which opens the record. It’s tight, oddball pop reminiscent of DM’s work with Damon Albarn on The Good, The Bad and The Queen and Gorillaz’ Demon Days, and sets up a collection which shares more DNA musically with Albarn’s post-millenial oeuvre than with much of Cale's own, (though he’s dabbled in so much across 40 years nothing ever feels a true departure.
Released in 2011, the Extra Playful EP, John Cale's first set of new material in six years, found the roguish ex-Velvet Underground legend revisiting some of the more idiosyncratic aspects of his early solo career, which should come as no surprise since he had spent the year prior performing his 1973 chamber pop masterpiece, Paris 1919, in its entirety. Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood, his first full-length outing since Black Acetate, continues in that same vein, mining the oddball, genre-be-damned approach that dominated his immediate post-Velvets output, while maintaining the austere, experimental art rock demeanor that informed much of his later work. Silly, savage, and willfully schizophrenic, Nookie Wood is at its best when its creator is channeling his more pastoral works, as is the case with the gorgeous "Living with You," his best love song since "I Keep a Close Watch," and the transcendental closer "Sandman (Flying Dutchman).
As Lou Reed’s Welsh born adversary/partner in the Velvet Underground, and occasional musical cohort afterwards, John Cale hasn’t had the influence or prolific career of Mr. Walk on the Wild Side. But he has produced intermittently stunning moments over the decades, even if those have often been so far under the radar as to be mere blips. This is the 70 year old Cale’s first studio release in seven years and the attention taken with production, multiple overdubs, lyrics and overall sound is immediately evident.
Forty-seven years after co-founding The Velvet Underground, 43 years after producing The Stooges’ debut, 36 years after doing the same for The Modern Lovers, 70-year-old Welshman John Cale releases his 15th solo album. Recorded in his LA studio, Cale does it all bar a “jam session” from Danger Mouse on ‘I Wanna Talk 2 U’. For five songs, it’s the best album ever, rattling along on post-punk guitar flourishes and Cale’s auto-tuned vocal.
On "December Rain", the sixth song on John Cale's new album, Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood, Cale sings a line about "Google getting on your nerves." He fails to elaborate, so we never find out what he thinks might irk us about Google: Google Docs (which frequently erases important data, I've noticed)? Google Reader (cramped, visually unappealing)? He just says "Google." The fact that he sings it through Auto-Tune gives the moment a whiff of parody. Cale has been on art-rock's cutting edge for decades; he's the only person at the center of the tag cloud "John Cage," "Aaron Copland," "Lou Reed," "Patti Smith," and "Sham 69." His cover of LCD Soundsystem's "All My Friends" rivals the original. You don't want to hear him sound out of touch.
John Cale casts his nets widely. With a career that spans avant-garde classical, proto-punk, baroque pop, and beat-based world music, among other genres, Cale has proven himself a restless artist bent on pushing himself constantly into new territory. Not surprisingly, this approach has mixed results, though the past decade showed a return to the kind of melodicism he displayed on his early solo efforts, first on the excellent Hobosapiens and then on the solid follow up, Black Acetate.
John Cale opened last year’s Extra Playful EP by exhorting his listeners to “Say hello to the future and goodbye to the past.” Here’s a near-septuagenarian with an abiding appreciation for mainstream contemporary rap, a vehement disregard for the conventional readings of pop history, and an occasional contempt for the autonomy of his collaborators. We continue to listen for this malcontentedness (increasingly genial with age) and warped, sardonic sense of humor. And as a cultural institution, we forgive him the occasional trespass, as we do Macca, Dylan, and Leonard Cohen (there are some rules of propriety).
For a musician as jaded to adventures as John Cale, finding new and exciting territory to work in can seem damn near impossible. Cale, ex-Velvet Underground and overall rock and roll treasure who has played a leading role in three or four indisputably classic albums (though none since the early 70’s) and now draws inspiration from Snoop Dogg, has tried it all. Consequently, Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood, his fifteenth solo LP and first in seven years, finds him resigned to a system somewhat resembling trial-and-error: all of its 12 tracks are reckless trials in largely unrelated genres, and most end up errors.
A mischievous release from a man accustomed to unconventional records. Wyndham Wallace 2012 It’s unfair that, almost half a century since their formation, John Cale remains best known for his role as co-founder of The Velvet Underground. Navigating a path between the mainstream and unconventional, he’s maintained his early avant-garde tendencies while releasing a slew of solo albums of enviable diversity.
In a year that has seen excellent offerings from elder statesmen and women, such as Patti Smith, Paul Weller and Michael Gira, John Cale's Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood puts in a similarly superb argument for the year belonging to those who continue to make good and intriguing music against pop's fetishising of youth. Seeing as Cale is known to sing the praises of Snoop Dogg nee Lion, and has shown up at Buckingham Palace with pink hair, it is true that the legendary Welshman is not your average wise old man. It's also true that Cale's freak flag may soar a bit higher than most.
It’s difficult to get past the title of Welsh legend John Cale’s new album so much so it’s best not to concentrate on it. The incomparable one-time Velvet Underground man is a towering figure in the musical landscape and at the ripe old age of seventy and it’s unsurprising to discover that ‘Shifty Adventures…’ bears absolutely zero resemblance to any of his mid-seventies and eighties solo albums, let alone his work with ‘Laughing’ Lou and co. In fact, the most retro sounding aspect of the album is Cale’s belated use of the vocoder to heavily process his vocals.