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John Cale: Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood

Album Review

Velvets veteran rediscovers avant-punk roots.

Even in his 70th birthday year, the most famous Welshman in avant-garde rock retains a commendably ‘fuck-you’ attitude. Cale’s first studio album in seven years finds him signed to an offshoot of indie label Domino, home of Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand, and making his most stridently wonky music in decades.

With crunchy, discordant art-funk stompers like Scotland Yard and Nookie Wood, Cale remains true to his roots as a classically trained modernist, bracingly cerebral and distrustful of cheap sentiment. But the best songs here manage to combine experimental sonics with emotional heart – tracks like Midnight Feast and Sandman (Flying Dutchman), dreamy techno-soul ballads laced with glitchy electronic noise. 

Reflecting his interest in contemporary hip-hop and R&B, Cale also takes a bold leap on Mothra, vajazzling his voice with Kanye-style Auto-Tuner effects over a liquid backdrop of mechanised beats. 

This album occasionally gets bogged down in Peter Gabriel territory, ploughing a polished but ponderous AOR groove. But most of these tracks embody the same restlessly questing ethos as fellow left-field elder statesmen like Tom Waits and Neil Young, gleefully challenging long-term fans with ear-bashing arrangements and new musical colours. 

Even when the songs miss the target, Cale’s punk-pensioner attitude still impresses.

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