John Cale: POPtical Illusion (digital outlets)

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Davies and Wales
 John Cale: POPtical Illusion (digital outlets)

We have said it before will doubtless say it again and so might as well say it now: Elsewhere has long considered John Cale as the most consistently interesting member to emerge from the Velvet Underground.

Certainly Lou Reed was a great artist but there were many albums which failed to spark and no matter how much slavish fans would want to elevate some of them they are perhaps just the passion of those who somehow persisted with them when others wouldn't.

Elsewhere has been guilty of that and would advance the case for The Bells, but we only kept working at it because of the presence of trumpeter Don Cherry in the first instance. Most didn't bother so missed the alarming title track and Reed's most quasi-autobiographical song Families.

But Cale just kept being commanding, demanding, wildly inventive and delivering without the self-mythologising of his former sparring partner.

And he just keeps delivering.

Typographically this album title has “pop” in capitals, but few would come to 82-year old Cale for radio-friendly hits.

Almost six decades after he packed up his viola and left Velvet Underground, he continues on his wayward, challenging and occasionally brilliant way, although we'd reluctantly admit he's long since lost all but a loyal following.

However his 2023 Mercy album, a moody, sober affair, was in our best of the year selection and this slightly more upbeat collection does hint at pop (Davies and Wales with “avoid the mistakes we made when we were younger”), offers beguiling melodies (Edge of Reason, Setting Fires) and let's fly with some VU drone, repetition and abrasive texture (Shark-Shark).

In fact, Cale sounds like he's mellowing (“like the wizard of Oz I've seen much of it grow”) and enjoying himself, even if these times are fraught: “The right-wingers burning their libraries down” in the distorted vocal on Company Commander.

He's still offering sonic challenges (the searing backdrop and percussive explosions which disrupt Calling You Out behind his mesmerising vocal) and There Will Be No River (“the thunderstorms are gone, beaming me down Scotty”) nods to Brian Eno's pastoral By This River.

POPtical Illusion – with synths, beat box percussion, strings, raw guitars and sometimes hypnotic melodies – may be the most surprisingly agreeable and intelligent “pop” album from classically-trained Cale since Hobosapiens 20 years ago.


You can hear this album at Spotify here

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