Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

My Quest for Breaking Everything: John Cale’s Favourite Music

The Velvet Underground co-founder and longstanding experimental outlier reflects fondly on his 18-hour long debut US performance, producing for The Stooges and writing an ode to Brian Wilson, and makes a case for the avant-garde genius of Snoop Dogg

Photo by Madeline McManus

In John Cale‘s Baker’s Dozen, it’s not hard to detect the same giddying churn of emotions that define his new album POPtical Illusion which, like last year’s MERCY, is drawn from some 80 compositions that Cale came up with during a burst of activity during the coronavirus pandemic.

His 17th album, in a manner befitting the turbulent mental challenges of lockdown, is a tempest of fury, inquisition, meditation and humour – not so much moving from one to another, but combining them into a swirling and slippery whole. The self-explanatorily named ‘I’m Angry’, for instance, sees that titular rage backed by slow, calm, sprawling organ. ‘How We See The Light’ reframes the end of a relationship as a chance for bittersweet celebration of the lessons learned.

The record meditates on our twisted present, taking aim at “the right wingers burning their libraries down” on ‘Company Commander’, and draws on lessons still relevant from his past (“Fear is a man’s best friend,” he proclaims on ‘Edge Of Reason’, evoking the opening track of his 1974 masterpiece Fear). It confronts the future with a mixture of hope and despair, and the past (as on ‘Davies And Wales’, in part a tribute to his mother) with a blend of affection and melancholy.

So too do the 13 favourite tracks he’s selected for tQ vary wildly in their scope – from his awe at the genius of some of pop’s great songwriters, to an admiration for composers who inspired him to push the boundaries of classical music, to his belief in hip hop’s overlooked potential as a realm of avant-garde minimalism. It is a list as mercurial and as multi-faceted as the man himself.

John Cale’s new album POPtical Illusion is out now via Domino. To begin reading his Baker’s Dozen, click ‘First Record’ below

First Record

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