By Emily Carney
Before the passing of Serge Gainsbourg in 1991, it was said that the French singer-songwriter-total badass didn’t need to die before he achieved immortality. John Cale—of the Velvet Underground and solo fame—is one of those artists as well (although John will hopefully be with us for a very long time).
John Cale was already a legend prior to turning 30; now, his legend has extended into myth. At age 69, he shows no signs of stopping with his new EP, appropriately titled Extra Playful. The man showed up to his Order of the British Empire award ceremony dressed like a dustbin man with rooster-red hair. What is not to love about Cale? Oh, yes, there is plenty to love, as this new selection of songs shows.
The EP starts out with “Catastrofuk,” which is a typical rocker in mid-1970s Cale style. I’m not even sure what the song is about—most Cale songs have oblique lyrics at best—but his melodious Welsh voice hasn’t aged much since 1970’s Vintage Violence. “Whaddya Mean By That” goes into romantic territory with its flourishes of guitars and “watery” effects. As Cale gets older, he has finally succeeded in writing love songs that don’t terrify small children and animals. This is truly a lovely song and deserves to be on many a mixtape.
“Hey Ray” falters a bit, attempting to capitalize on electronic sounds and monotonous lyrics. However, “Pile a L’heure” hearkens back to the sounds of 1973’s Paris 1919 with its unapologetically French lyrics and dark viola bass line. Needless to say, it sounds great and adventurous.
The final song, “Perfection,” doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever heard from Cale. It sounds more like a track from LCD Soundsystem (whom he covered a few years back, tackling “All My Friends” like a boss). The synthesized drum track and vocals slide into a cacophonous bridge. It sounds a bit unfinished, in the best way possible. Cale is the master of bringing together produced and un-produced sounds, and here, he doesn’t fail.
While Lou Reed blathers on with Metallica (????), John Cale has resolutely entered the 21st century with Extra Playful. As a diehard Cale devotee, I am proud of this new effort and it makes me happy to see a master succeeding wonderfully at his art.
If you’re a first-time Cale listener, I would start with Paris 1919 and 1974’s Fear. 1975’s Helen of Troy is also an excellent record, although it terrifies everyone I’ve ever forced to listen to it. But ultimately, it’s your call. As a fan, I was not disappointed in Extra Playful; it’s an excellent little collection of songs which should satiate other fans, too.
The Extra Playful EP, currently available digitally and on 12″, will be issued on CD for the first time in North America as an indie retail Black Friday exclusive on November 25 from Domino imprint Double Six. The very limited edition will feature two exclusive unreleased tracks: “Bluetooth Swings” and “The Hanging,” as well as a redesigned package.
Details of the forthcoming John Cale full-length album, due out in spring 2012, will be announced in the coming weeks.