For many musicians when they reach a certain point in their career they begin to rot, and churn out rubbish album upon rubbish album. John Cale is quite the opposite; he constantly looks to innovate and pursue new genres. From his well-known avant-garde beginnings with the Velvet Underground, his career has been a colourful voyage between experimentation and the mainstream. Away from his own music Cale is able to name drop a never ending list of select musicians (The Stooges, Patti Smith, Brian Eno) that he has produced or collaborated with. Yet it is the adventurous and still flourishing spirit born with the Velvet Underground that has made John Cale such a national gem.
His 15th solo album sees him delving into an electronic arena, quite unlike any of his previous work, and unsurprisingly he masters the younger generation’s style of music; his cover of LCD Soundsystem‘s All My Friends rivalled the original and arguably bettered it. Traditional instruments step aside; here, Cale is armed with synths, loops and beats, all of which he wields to great effect.
As the album title suggests there is an abundance of playful songs that take quirky turns. The weirder moments are like a jack-in-the-box bopping up and down in a hypnotising way with bright pink hair – like Cale himself once sported. The most extravagant points draw you in the same way as a jack-in-the-box with the initial surprise leading to intrigue which entices you further into the wonderful world of Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood.
Album opener I Wanna Talk 2 U doesn’t need a text-talk title to prove that John Cale can cut it with the kids. As a gentle guitar strum eases the music in, Cale delivers his vocals with swagger, before an unexpected twist launches the track into a funk drenched thriller, with a killer chorus to boot. A collaboration with Danger Mouse, the track is fundamentally a radio friendly hit and is one of the most unexpected but perfect pop songs this year.
True to the electronic genre Cale is dabbling in, the first half of the album is tight and compact, with an ever present backbone of beats leading to a coherency that has been missing from some of his recent releases. Nookie struts along, with Scotland Yard being an irresistibly glitzy offering, whilst the vocoder played on Face To The Sky creates a dreamy soundscape. Living With You finds a tranquil area of Nookie Wood, full of glistening natural beauty. But the track soon reaches new territory as the beats pulsate as if they are glowing in neon light, ending the serene beginnings of the track. John Cale’s singing is delightful throughout the album; reaching an older age suits certain singers but can equally haunt a singer as they lose their talent, but his sombre delivery seems to mature with age.
The steady pace of mid-tempo tracks might deter some listeners; although there are tinges of mischief, a sudden shift in pace would certainty elevate the listen. When a musician has been involved in such classic albums as the richly poetic Paris 1919 and legendary The Velvet Underground And Nico it is always going to lead to difficult comparisons upon each release. Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood proudly shows that the now 70-year-old Welshman has conquered another intriguing musical quest, whilst beating a young generation at their game. In so doing, John Cale has shown why he is arguably the greatest Velvet Underground member.