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Rock pioneer cale in hale-and-hearty form

JOHN CALE Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood (Domino)

At the birth of the British beat boom, when Freddie and the Dreamers pranced about on TV like demented human puppets, John Cale was in New York studying modern composition and working with avant garde artists.

Later, he was a crucial part of the Velvet Underground experiment and is now widely acknowledged as one of the cornerstones of contemporary music. As a solo artist, Cale's been no slouch. His albums, production work and appearances on other people's recordings amount to a road map through the many alternative avenues of popular music.

Strange as it may seem, we probably have Cale to thank for the hit status of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, which he was first to reinterpret on the tribute album I'm Your Fan in 1991.

Tension between Cale and Lou Reed is probably the reason we don't have the Welsh-man to thank for another important breakthrough. During his Velvets period, Cale claims to have been considering composing music that would "create weather", arguing that, "in brain surgery, they use ultrasonics for cutting away tissue". So, we've established that John Cale isn't averse to taking risks. On his first new studio album since 2005's blackAcetate, he shuns a uniform house style, preferring to allow each song determine its own soundscape.

Oddly, the opening track, I Wanna Talk 2 U, a spontaneous session produced by Danger Mouse, is the least interesting. However, these 12 new songs unfold to reveal a core as hauntingly insistent and memorable as anything since Paris 1919.

Cale's baritone is weatherproof and sits as comfortably on industrial-electro (Scotland Yard) as on acoustic-pastoral (Living With You).

The album's most moving experience comes with the ghostly Sandman (Flying Dutchman), a dreamlike excursion that expands on Eno and David Byrne's innovations.

Elsewhere, his hooks endure on Nookie Wood, a boy's adolescence in Wales, and Face To The Sky, a pulsing slice of folk-psychedelia. HHHHI


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