John Cale Is Still a Force on 'MERCY'

BY Kerry DoolePublished Jan 26, 2023

The 17th studio album from Wales' reigning musical wizard — and his first in a decade — MERCY proves that, in his seventh decade of creation, 80-year-old John Cale remains a potent force. His Hall of Fame career has included the ever-influential Velvet Underground, production work for the likes of the Modern Lovers, Squeeze, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Patti Smith, Art Bergmann and more, and an equally impressive discography as a solo artist.

Cale's seminal '70s solo albums — the likes of Paris 1919, Fear, Slow Dazzle, and Helen of Troy — have admirably retained their relevance, but Cale is decidedly (and refreshingly) untied from his towering past. On MERCY, he recruits such current talents as Weyes Blood, Tei Shi, Sylvan Esso, Actress, and Animal Collective to help flesh out his visions, their presence hopefully leading a younger, forward-thinking audience to experience Cale's work.

While those '70s releases were built around guitar and piano stylings, Cale has adopted a very contemporary production approach here. Synthesizers and swirling strings are at the core of many of these compositions, along with staccato hip-hop beats on tunes like "Noise Of You," "Marilyn Monroe's Legs," and "Night Crawling." Though the passage of time has diminished the power of Cale's distinctive deep and resonant voice just a tad, it remains a deeply expressive instrument.

Many of the tracks on MERCY are in the six or seven minute range, and the emphasis here is on atmospheric soundscapes rather than concise melodies. Lyrically, Cale oft reflects upon paranoia-drenched modern times, though there is a refreshing, if rare, optimism to "Not the End of the World," and sage advice in "Night Crawling" — "If we're always regretting our past, aren't we conscripting ourselves to permanent disappointment?"

He pays homage to Velvet Underground comrade Nico on the elegiac "Moonstruck" — "You're a moonstruck junkie lady / Staring at your feet" — while fluent piano and ethereal vocal touches from Weyes Blood on "Story of Blood" make for another highlight on a compelling album that will more than reward your attention. (Domino).
(Double Six / Domino)

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