John Cale – Album

John Cale – Album

Friday, 20 January 2023
John Cale – Mercy – “Not The End of the World”

John Cale
I will admit, with rock stars dropping all around us, listening to this CD made me a little nervous. It sounds like John Cale is reviewing his life, looking back with a critical eye and looking forward with trepidation. Initially, I found myself wondering if Mercy was to be another Blackstar, The Wind or You Want It Darker. Musically, however, this is a forward looking album – as Cale collaborates with a number of fresh musicians, mostly in electronica, such as Laurel Halo, Weyes Blood, Tei Shi, Animal Collective’s Avey Tare and Panda Bear, Dev Hynes, Sylvan Esso, Actress and Fat White Family. The result is a haunting, dreamlike atmosphere throughout. Despite the breadth of collaborators, there is a consistent feel and sound, clearly the result of Cale’s steady hand at the helm.

The music is hallucinogenic, modern acid rock. It is a far cry from the Sixties’ notion of that; musicians now have more tools at their disposal than feedback drenched solos and incoherent jams to express the psychedelic experience. They use the full spectrum on Mercy, which includes cross rhythms in many songs, and various electronics augmenting, at times interrupting, the dark but smooth flow of Cale’s music; just enough to throw you off, make you turn around and say, “What was that?” This contrast can make Mercy a hard album to get into. The music exists on two levels: the underlying tunes and the surface distractions. It takes repeated listens to unify the two.

What you then find is a dark exploration of Cale’s current state of mind. Some threat or fear lurks behind much of the underlying music. Especially dark are “The Story of Blood” and “The Legal Status of Ice” (which is as close as the album gets to Cale’s old rocking days).

The whole album is a drug- (or fever-) induced dream state, in which Cale reviews his life and the various tangents along the way. So he considers how he didn’t appreciate Marilyn Monroe’s appeal in “Marilyn Monroe’s Legs” (“Late to the party/ … there was always beauty elsewhere”); she reminds him of his old friend Nico (another sometime blonde) and his conflicted relationship with her (“Moonstruck”), which gets him contemplating memory and time itself (“Time Stands Still”), until, almost inevitably he is wondering how much time he/we have left (“Not the End of the World”).

But the whole experience is more a series of flashbacks and their attendant random trails than an organized assessment. He is reflecting, not criticizing. In “Everlasting Days” he sings:

“I’m not making excuses
I’m not making amends
Are we saving face
on a day of confusion
or clearing the air? “

Another bit of reflection is in “Moonstruck” when he sings “Please hold me/ yes console me/ I have come to make my peace.” Although it’s not clear if he wants to make peace with Nico herself, or her death.

The penultimate song on Mercy, “I Know You’re Happy” is just what it says, and it captures the sense of returning to earth after a heavy trip. However, “Out Your Window,” the final tune, returns to the darkness. “If you jump out your window/ I will break your fall/ hold you close and keep you calm/ wherever you decide to go/ Please don’t go.” Accompanied by clanging piano chords and a celestial chorus, the words again leave us wondering who is departing, or about to depart.

I certainly hope that Mercy is not Cale’s swansong. The power of the album shows he still has plenty of creativity left in him; but if it is though, what a strong way to go. [G. Murray Thomas]


Mercy is out now. Buy it here on the artist’s own website.

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