January 17, 2006

John Cale "blackAcetate"

John Cale’s a difficult bastard to pin down. One minute, he’s releasing a crap record, the next minute, he’s releasing something brilliant. The man is totally, utterly unpredictable. But that’s not surprising; after all, he is John Cale, the man who is partially responsible for the Velvet Underground, the man who is responsible for producing some classic records, including works by Nico, Patti Smith, and Iggy & The Stooges. Artistically, the man doesn’t stand still, which is both a benefit and a liability. Considering he is a cult figure with a cult following, his record-buying public is aware of this tendency, which may or may not help matters.

Unsurprisingly, blackAcetate, his latest work, finds him exploring all sorts of styles, to a variety of success. It’s somewhat amusing to hear a retirement-age man throwing down funk and hip-hop beats and ‘rapping,’ but you’ll hear it on “Outta The Bag,” “Hush,” and “Brotherman.” (Try not to snicker-it’s impolite, even if the songs occasionally sound, well…silly.) Though our sensors have been trained to laugh at 63-year old men playing their interpretations of ‘modern rock,’ it’s hard to deny the power and the excellent craft on “Foraride” and “Turnthelightson.” Not surprisingly, his slower, mellower numbers like “Gravel Drive” and “Wasteland” will gain comparison to the Velvet Underground and his former collaborator, Lou Reed. When he pulls out his viola on these songs, he quickly demonstrates that Johnny Viola hasn’t lost his magical touch. Overall, though, blackAcetate is a funk-filled affair, and even though you aren’t going to mistake him for George Clinton anytime soon, songs like “Woman” and “Satisfied” really aren’t that different from records he’s made in the past.
If ever cynical listeners needed proof that Cale is more than a mere relic of the 1960s and 70s, he’s done so here. Of course, like most Cale records, this album will also likely flounder in obscurity, and that’s a shame, because it’s a good record. Cale could use his age as an excuse to release mediocre, unadventurous music, but he doesn’t. Being elderly and unafraid to fall on your face is, in its own way, something to be admired. Just don’t get too comfortable in thinking he’ll follow blackAcetate with something even better, because you might be terribly disappointed.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.john-cale.com/
Label Website: http://www.astralwerks.com/

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