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John Cale
Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood Maria Schurr , October 9th, 2012 06:45

In a year that has seen excellent offerings from elder statesmen and women, such as Patti Smith, Paul Weller and Michael Gira, John Cale's Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood puts in a similarly superb argument for the year belonging to those who continue to make good and intriguing music against pop's fetishising of youth. Seeing as Cale is known to sing the praises of Snoop Dogg nee Lion, and has shown up at Buckingham Palace with pink hair, it is true that the legendary Welshman is not your average wise old man. It's also true that Cale's freak flag may soar a bit higher than most. Still, for all its weirdnesses, Shifty Adventures... is a fairly accessible and wholly satisfying ride.

Cale's prior release (2005's Black Acetate), was a mixed bag. When it was odd, it was very, very odd (think the funk pastiche 'Brotherman'), and when it was straightforward it was nearly static. Cale has managed to make a more coherent release with Shifty Adventures..., which means nothing is as beguilingly boastful as "I write reams of this shit every day," nor does it allow any time for the mind to wander. Although the first three songs are a bit rockier than anything that follows, this only makes the remainder seem even more of a retreat into a magical realm. Much has been made of the album's opener, 'I Wanna Talk 2 U', collaboration between Cale and Danger Mouse. While it is a slightly funky treat, all that follows ensures that Cale is a good enough producer on his own, thank you very much; lest we forget, this is the man who produced The Stooges' first record. 'Scotland Yard' and 'Hemingway' are out to prove that Cale is ready to get down to brass tacks, and headphones are required. The viola scrapes on the former sound like police sirens; the piano pounding on the latter offers a glimpse of Cale gleefully letting loose. Although nowhere close to the yowlings at the end of something like 'Fear is a Man's Best Friend', the shouts at 'Hemingway''s end are a valiant touch.

Then things get really interesting. 'Face to the Sky' is the first of a trio of songs that feature Cale's voice auto-tuned. While it's hard to employ auto-tune and not sound embarrassing, Cale gets away with it here thanks to an at first ethereal, eventually disarrayed musicscape, and meditative phrases such as "dizzy as a top on a chessboard." After the minor letdown that is the title track - which sounds like David Byrne but craggy - the autotune is picked up again for bonafide jammer 'December Rains'. If you play this cut for a mildly dense friend, you could easily fool them into thinking it's a new Daft Punk single, so lush is the production, so fine is its groove. The third in this autotune triad is 'Mothra', a song which manages to fashion a digital pop hook out of summoning the Godzilla villain. Considering that Cale was singing about schoolyard homophobia in the electro ballad 'Mary' just moments ago, it seems safe to assume that Shifty Adventures... will be one of very few releases this year to find such a variance of subjects.

Compared to some of Cale's more recent releases, Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood does nothing to out-dazzle his 2003 masterpiece HoboSapiens. However, seeing as Cale is constantly switching genres, it is unfair to hold any current release against a previous effort. What Cale has done here is not only intriguing in its own right, it also manages to beat artists half the maker's age and younger at their own game and also has more to say. Ageism may not yet be a thing of the past, but at least we have some fine music to listen to in the meantime.

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