John Cale

    BlackAcetate

    5

    At
    sixty-three, enigmatic Welshman John Cale is a concrete maverick whose
    lengthy resume has ties to everyone from LaMonte Young, John Cage and
    Terry Riley to the Stooges, Squeeze and Lemon Jelly. Cale is widely
    known as the primary avant instigator in the Velvet Underground,
    responsible for the high-wire experimentalism of classics such as
    “Venus in Furs” and “Sister Ray.” His work as a collaborator (Velvet
    Underground, Brian Eno) and a producer (Patti Smith, Nico) has the
    wattage to outshine his considerable solo output, but to ignore his
    prowess as a songwriter and solo performer is to slight a truly radical
    catalogue.

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    His last pop-leaning releases, 2003’s Five Tracks and the subsequent full-length Hobosapiens,
    are perfect examples of Cale’s crackling and inventive solo outings.
    They buzzed with the energy of a newfound digital production freedom
    and were arguably graced with the most consistent set of songs the man
    has ever penned. It’s unfortunate, then, that Cale follows those
    sparkling releases with BlackAcetate, a comparatively hollow effort that injects the thoroughly progressive cool of Five Tracks and Hobosapiens with a nauseating dose of grunge guitar and Pharrell-lite beat work.

     

    Cale has dropped Pharrell, as well as Gorillaz, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu and Dr. Dre, as primary influences for his work on BlackAcetate.
    The nods to Pharrell’s production gleam most brightly across the
    album’s architecture, but never more glaringly than on “Woman,” where
    the mockery (troubling from such a restless iconoclast) distracts from
    an energetic and clingy chorus. Lead single “Perfect” is a bubbling
    cross between Orange County punk and David Bowie’s grunge excursion Tin
    Machine. It features a gloriously multi-tracked Cale through the break.
    “InAFlood” marries Leonard Cohen’s muted phrasing to Randy Newman’s
    “Louisiana 1927,” and “Hush” recalls David Byrne’s nervy funk.
    Ruminative and modern, “Satisfied” and “Wasteland” are BlackAcetate‘s obvious bridgeways to Hobosapiens and are, consequently, the two solid highlights.

     

    Production techniques aside, it’s the writing at the heart of BlackAcetate that
    suffers listeners most. Half-hearted sketches such as “Brotherman” are
    devoid of value, and much of the album feels unfocused, as if Cale has
    become seduced by the smooth trickery of digital production at the
    expense of cogent songs built on icy melodies, slippery poetics and
    true invention – three of Cale’s enduring strengths sadly missing
    through much of the album’s fifty-three minutes. Thankfully, the 21st century has witnessed Cale as vivid and vital as ever, giving hope that the willful force behind Paris 1919, Music for a New Society and Hobosapiens will see those thrilling creative vistas again.

     

     

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