Review: John Cale – Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood
Published on October 26th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Anything to do with “Hanky Panky Nohow”? In any case, this latest set from yer man of Velvet Underground and solo legendariness makes for a darned interesting listen as usual, if only a sporadically satisfying one.
It’s a moody affair alright, and unsurprisingly an experimental one; the unorthodox production is particularly striking, with Cale’s commanding baritone cloaked in various wibbly-wobbly effects and laterally conceived autotuning, but it’s all sufficiently grounded within the realms of pop music to sustain the interest of anyone who might be a wee bit frightened by some of the terms used in this review so far.
There’s plenty to delight in – the screeching string and fast-picked mafia movie guitar of “Scotland Yard”, the jarring pangs of fists ‘n’ knuckles piano and crazed scream of “Hemingway”, the squelchy beat and filmic strings of “Face to the Sky”, the reverb-laden accordion of “Vampire Cafe” – but these elements can on occasion feel more of a welcome distraction than the icing on the cake.
As the album wears on, it smooths out; “Mary” is a graceful, healing ballad-of-sorts that craftily balances the sweet with the poignant in its lyrics (“You can call me Sam / But you don’t have to call me Mary” vs “Don’t you worry, the future will come back soon / Shouting at the teacher from the back of the classroom”), while closing pair “Midnight Feast” and “Sandman (Flying Dutchman)” have Rocksucker grasping for words like ‘atmospheric’, ‘shimmering’ and ‘ethereal’.
John Cale’s discordant maelstroms sounded at once like the future and some distant past back in 1967, and he still manages to bridge epochs at every turn, juxtaposing synaesthetic electronics with harpsichord, referring variously in his lyrics to Google and “Joni Mitchell and her parking lot”, and he threads through it all a nocturnal sense of foreboding that leads us into the calmer waters of the album’s latter numbers, into “Sandman (Flying Dutchman)”‘s refrain of “He is sailing / Sailing the sea / Something happened today”, and ultimately back into the mundanity that one must always surrender when being led sonically astray by this evergreen innovator.
That the opening track here is a Danger Mouse collaboration entitled “I Wanna Talk 2 U” could be interpreted as a swipe at the all-too-prevalent mindlessness of modern youth culture, and the pretenders would do well 2 listen. Along with Bob Dylan’s new album, the septuagenarians really are putting a lot of young ‘uns to shame at the moment, and while Nookie Wood may not be somewhere you’ll be clamouring to revisit again and again, the world can only benefit from its creation.
Rocksucker says: Three and a Half Quails out of Five!
Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood is out now on Double Six Records. For more information, please visit john-cale.com