John Cale, the father of art rock, has always had the soul of a punk. Since co-founding The Velvet Underground in 1965, he’s been blending daring sonic experimentation with pop hooks. The classically trained musician served an apprenticeship with avant-garde composers John Cage and LaMonte Young before joining Lou Reed in reinventing rock ’n’ roll. Post-Velvets, he produced albums for Iggy & the Stooges, Nico and Patti Smith; collaborated with Reed and Brain Eno; created film scores and recorded 16 solo works. HoboSapiens, Cale’s first new album in eight years, is like a Fellini movie, filled with rich textures and intriguing characters. It returns Cale to the realm of his 1973 masterpiece, Paris 1919, only this time adding 21st-century samples, loops and synthesizers.
On certain tracks, such as the opener “Zen,” Cale uses his stentorian vocal style and keyboard wizardry to great atmospheric effect, highlighting his poetic—and harrowing—lyrics. Elsewhere, his Welsh croon spells romance, as on the catchy “Things” and “Set Me Free.” Cinematic moments—complete with the appropriate sound effects—abound: the up-tempo “Reading My Mind” is a mini “La Dolce Vita”; the dissonant “Letter From Abroad” mixes Graham Greene-style intrigue with the “cut-ups” technique of William Burroughs; the exotic “Look Horizon” could be the soundtrack to a Wim Wenders film; “Magritte” (featuring Cale’s magnificent viola) is a paranoid missive from an art museum. It’s not always a pretty picture that Cale paints, but it’s one you’ll never forget.