Album Reviews

John Cale – Extra Playful

on September 06, 2011, 7:57am
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If Lou Reed was the antihero figurehead of The Velvet Underground, then John Cale was the mad scientist in the background, his viola putting the art into VU’s stripped-down art rock on early masterpiece White Light/White Heat. As a solo artist, Cale has quietly remained on the forefront of the independent rock scene for more than 40 years, collaborating with or producing albums for Brian Eno, Nick Drake, Suzanne Vega, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Danger Mouse, and LCD Soundsystem.

Now, in his sixth decade of making records, Cale has released a five-song EP that sounds as comfortable in the contemporary music world as anything by artists a third his age. Whimsically riffing on the EP abbreviation, Extra Playful opens strongly with “Catastrofuk”, the initial acoustic guitar met with distorted amp noise and electrified piano. An up-tempo rock song that harkens back to Cale’s CBGB days, it’s the would-be single.

While the songs are all good, the lyrics don’t always meet that quality. “Hey Ray” is a slow, swampy blues, with industrial percussion clangoring alongside smooth, distorted guitar lines. But the verse lyrics are a weird spoken history of the 1960s that just don’t gel. A group of male voices scream, “The Russians are coming!,” to which Cale snidely replies, “No they’re not.” He keeps this game up, responding to the oncoming French with an “Ooh la la!” To the scream of “The Americans are coming,” his dry British wit replies, “Oh… shit.” It’s funny, but it ruins the song.

Much more successful is the slow, electronic ballad “Pile a L’heure”, sounding like something off the Garden State soundtrack, with its plodding, sexy vibe, droning synths, and effects-laden French vocals. For the most part, Extra Playful makes a nice addition to any modern rock playlist, though there’s nothing on here that will drop your jaw. Still, it’s a fine piece of work from one of the most important art rockers of the 20th (and now 21st) century.

Essential Tracks: “Catastrofuk”, “Pile a L’heure”

3 comments

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Hans
September 23, 2011 at 12:11 pm

its a very fine work by Mr. Cale – i’m not a native speaker, so an »oh …shit« doesn t ruin anything for me ;-) – the ep deserves a better rating, doubled (at least) would be fine …

Russell
September 19, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Disagree about ‘Hey Ray’… the irreverent ‘speaking’ of the verses is funny, but it allows the chorus to completely overwhelm you when it comes in… almost as if Cale were deconstructing a pop song (like Green of the Scrits) and making it even better than a straight version would be.
It’s playful, not flawed, and Cale has a great track record in his EPs – from Animal Justice, through 5 Songs to this one. the albums which followed each one (Sabotage/Honi Soit and Hobosapiens, plus next year’s ??) were/are masterpieces.
Enjoy.

paul
August 22, 2011 at 11:24 pm

Out of curiosity, how does the rating system work here? To me, the text of the review would make me think end score would be a 3-3.5 out of 5 but instead it gets a 2.5. What does a 2.5 mean: forgettable, so-so, decent, worthwhile?

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