John Cale - Mercy Music Album Reviews

John Cale - Mercy Music Album Reviews
On an often chilly album full of unexpected collaborations and smeared with apocalyptic terror, the 80-year-old art-rock legend grapples with the need for human connection. 

When an icon returns after a lengthy absence, it’s tempting to feel a kind of condescending compassion. My god, one might think, he’s still doing it at 80. And when he returns in the enviable company of bright young(er) things, it’s tempting to feel cynical: Look who’s trying to stay current. Spare all that for John Cale. He who, in co-founding the Velvet Underground, built the bridge between European art music and American rock’n’roll with his inimitable viola drone; who managed to corral early iterations of the Stooges, Patti Smith, the Modern Lovers, and Nico into the studio and keep them there long enough to capture on tape all their world-changing energies; who introduced Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” to Jeff Buckley, and after him, vicariously, to a deluge of lessor idol tryouts; who has himself released more than three dozen albums of chamber pop, post-punk, post-rock, and beyond, on his own and in collaboration with fellow icons, arguably more famous than him (frenemies Lou Reed and Brian Eno, gurus like La Monte Young), whom he often shows up—John Cale doesn’t need your charity. 

In a 60-year career full of unexpected twists, Cale arrives with another: MERCY, an album informed by R&B and smeared with dream-pop haze and orchestral rumblings of apocalyptic terror. Yes, there’s a dream team of collaborators that reads like a festival main stage: Weyes Blood, Sylvan Esso, Animal Collective, Dev Hynes, and Tei Shi. Electronic producers Actress, Laurel Halo, TOKiMONSTA, and Seven Davis Jr. offer avant-cred. Fat White Family also appear. None stand a chance of upstaging Cale, and none try. MERCY is Cale’s album alone, haunted and reckoning with a turbulent past that, day by day, looks more peaceful than the future.

His voice remains unmistakable, a walnut burl with cracks in the grain. The stentorian register that Cale used to wield with authority is absent. Chart the distance between its apotheosis, 1973’s classic “Paris 1919,” and MERCY standout “Time Stands Still.” In both songs, Europe has collapsed (this time, it’s “sinking in the mud”), and in both, the Church comes to save the day. Fifty years ago, Cale could imagine himself as the religious force. “I’m the church/And I’ve come/To claim you with my iron drum,” he sang, his voice like cold steel. Today, he just mourns the church’s “savagery” in a voice wafting through a cathedral of Sylvan Esso’s echoes and murmurs. The drums are uncertain, doubling back like leather heels approaching and retreating on a hard stone floor. Only in the bridge does that old voice return, and instead of enlightenment, there’s environmental chaos. Roses battle poppies for the sun, and “monsoons (are) happening everywhere, even in your own backyard.” Vanishing footsteps signify love and loss in the gorgeous “Noise of You”; Cale, suspended in blankets of synths and vintage keys the exact color of a dusk snowstorm, longs to hear them once again. “Was so long, long ago,” he hollers. A string section flutters tremendously, a scarf that could form a noose. 

On MERCY, memory is treacherous. “Not the End of the World” sparkles with a reassuring grandeur, but each time his processed, multi-tracked voice repeats the title, it feels more like a lie. Incendiary “The Legal Status of Ice” raises a bitter toast to polar bears stranded on an iceberg; Cale intones, “Ding dong, the witch is dead,” over a tundra of frosty guitars and cracking drums, and the witch might well be us. In other moments, it’s the past that’s bewitching. “Night Crawling” stumbles around with neo-soul swagger, getting nowhere (relatively, for this very downtempo collection) fast. “I can’t even tell when you’re putting me on/We’ve played that game before,” he chants, trapped in a loop of looking back to reconfirm he’s still trapped in a loop. Centerpiece “Everlasting Days” starts out elegiac, and then Avey Tare and Panda Bear join Cale in dismantling the entire idea of a requiem. Breakbeats remind you they’re named for destruction, words shatter into mere syllables, and the motives behind the making of amends are thrown like snapped branches into a bonfire of historical proportions. It’s brutal. 

Warmth is rare. “I Know You’re Happy” attempts a kind of late-Motown bop, but flops rather elegantly into first recriminations and then earnest desperation. In the luminous “Moonstruck (Nico’s Song),” he tells his old collaborator, “I have come to make my peace,” as soft synth pads echo her old harmonium wheeze. One wonders what Nico, who made some of the world’s most beautiful songs while embracing some very ugly politics, would think of Cale calling her “a moonstruck junkie lady, staring at your feet.” Or what another doomed icon, Marilyn Monroe, would think of his ode to her, the seven-minute “Marilyn Monroe’s Legs (Beauty Elsewhere),” which sets numerological and phenomenological musings against a shivering screen of bleeps, rustles, and moans. It’s more Cronenberg than Warhol, but at least not as creepy as Andrew Dominik’s recent Blonde.

Somehow, though, alienation isn’t all. MERCY is a revelation of the need to connect. It’s a need that doesn’t waver as one ages, as the deaths of your loved ones hasten. Cale utterly embraces that need’s every facet. In the title track, Laurel Halo’s remarkable sound design ballasts Cale’s plea for someone to “lift me up,” an act of generosity in a song about hoping for one. In a pair of the album’s most devastating songs, Cale’s old pal the piano comes out: For a moment, it’s there in the bluesy intro to “Story of Blood,” a crisp, dizzying duet with Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering, which suddenly bursts into some heavenly headspace between SZA and Slowdive. Cale rages against those betrayed by their bodies. “Bring them with me into the light,” he and Mering sing to each other, shouldering a burden built for two. And when the soul fails, connection is a mortal issue. “Out Your Window” closes the album with, mostly, Cale at the piano, invoking Paris 1919. For all its complexities, MERCY ends with Cale vowing to save a troubled friend’s life. “If you jump,” he promises, “I will break your fall.” Not stop, not catch, but break. Cale’s here, once again and for now, still not making things easy on anyone. 

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
John Cale - Mercy Music Album Reviews John Cale - Mercy Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on January 31, 2023 Rating: 5


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