tue 31/01/2023

Album: John Cale - Mercy | reviews, news & interviews

Album: John Cale - Mercy

Album: John Cale - Mercy

Welsh octogenerian's avant-garde adventures

'His wide-ranging and adventurous choice of collaborators takes his journey into new territory'

John Cale has always walked a cutting-edge. At 80, he is still making music that stretches the mind. He is accompanied on his most recent album by a number of talented and original ground-breakers from both sides of the pond – from the eccentric and pure voice of Natalie Mering (aka Weyes Blood) to the Stockhausen-flavoured explorations of Actress, the psychedelic anarchy of Animal Collective to the avant-pop sweetness of Tei Shi.

Cale was one of the founders of The Velvet Underground, but he soon established himself as an independent force on the fertile fringes of classically-tinged rock, perhaps not surprising given the nature of his musical schooling. The albums Vintage Violence (1970) and Paris 1919 (1973) were both characterised by almost symphonic grandeur, tinged with an atmosphere of melancholy, over which Cale’s romantic and slightly lugubrious voice carried lyrics of mystifying poetry. In many ways, the new album, half a century later, evokes the same mood: nothing is fixed or clean-cut. He has always clothed his sounds in a kind of mist – all too easy to say that these are his Celtic roots coming through, and yet that's probably the case.

Cale was one of the first rock singers to favour a vocal style that owed nothing to the blues or soul that had shaped the music of the 60s. There are echoes of his much more British-inflected and mannered way in the vocals of Kevin Ayers, Brian Eno or Stuart A Staples of Tindersticks. The emotion is held back – there isn't a trace of gospel fury here – which reinforces the slightly blurred and yet elaborate concoction of instrumental and synthesised sounds.

This is very much a John Cale album, but his wide-ranging and adventurous choice of collaborators takes his journey into new territory, the freshness of new voices and musicians making his own familiar ground sound appealingly new.

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