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Adventures in a musical forest

album of the week

john cale

Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood

(Double Six)

HHHHI

There must be an ageing photo of John Cale in an attic somewhere. The Dorian Grey of avant-garde rock turned 70 this year. He's just a week younger than his erstwhile bandmate and Velvet Underground co-founder Lou Reed, but the famously clean-living Cale has fought the ravages of time a lot better.

The Welshman's youthfulness stretches to his music, too.

Long after many of his musical contemporaries have settled for a rehash of their old sound or a more conventional rock template, Cale continues to experiment.

The adventurousness that made the first Velvet Underground album such a touchstone for art-rock disciples ever since remains apparent some 45 years later.

And Cale's innate desire to try new things is all over this rather suggestively titled album, his first in seven years.

Unusual time signatures, playful synth moves, voice manipulation techniques and baffling lyrics collide in a batch of songs that are both arresting and memorable.

Yet, for a man with a reputation for wilfully difficult music -- consider his most challenging album, 1982's Music for a New Society -- his latest adventures in hi-fi are, in part, radio-friendly and accessible.

Take opening track, I Wanna Talk 2 U. Here, Cale pits his talents against a modern day experimentalist, Brian 'Danger Mouse' Burton and the result is an intoxicating stew of classic rock and esoteric electronica.

The hypnotic Face to the Sky, meanwhile, is just as captivating, as Cale Auto-Tunes his way through a woozy, disorientating number built around minimalist piano. It sounds intriguing at first listen, and utterly mesmerising after repeat plays as the singer cryptically notes "spinning her around, dizzy as a top on a chessboard".

John Cale -- who's no stranger to these shores -- kicks off a European tour with a date in Dublin's Button Factory on Wednesday.

KEY TRACKS Face to the Sky; I Wanna Talk 2 U

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