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.
On Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood, Cale follows suit. It’s a seedy, late-night British-post-punk and contemporary-hip-hop-channeling stroll through the gutters of an imaginary, flickering-neon world—what Cale calls “a dark, fantastical place with a strange warm breath and sweat … a dark swamp where naughty things happen.”
It’s an apt description, and Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton helps Cale launch the journey down the rabbit hole with lead track (and first single) “I Wanna Talk 2 U,” a song that should spread like a virus through the speakers of discerning discotheques worldwide. Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood sounds like Echo & the Bunnymen or Simple Minds turned loose with an army of 808s and AutoTuners, and when left unwarped by gauzy effects, Cale’s vocal delivery is alternately as morose as Joy Division’s and as sneering as Nick Cave’s.
At this point in his career, Cale is on par with an elite group of shape-shifting, eternally relevant artists such as Cave, Neil Young and Tom Waits—intrepid visionaries never content to rest on past creative successes, always emerging from new cocoons (just like Nookie Wood’s “Mothra”) to show the world (and themselves) a new facet of their singular personality.