What does John Cale have that the rest of us don’t, some gene that engenders infinite restlessness, a rapacious mind that is never satisfied? If it’s MERCY John Cale wants, he’s created it not only through these 12 songs but through a lifetime of perpetual self-renewal.
Once again, here is John Cale, reimagining how his music is made, sounds, and even works. MERCY, his first full album of new tunes in a decade, moves through true dark-night-of-the-soul electronic blues toward vulnerable love songs and hopeful considerations for the future with the help of some of music’s most curious young minds. Laurel Halo, Sylvan Esso, Animal Collective. They’re but half of the astounding cast here, brilliant musicians who climb inside Cale’s consummate vision of the world and help him redecorate there. Cale turned 80 in March of 2022, and he’s watched as many of his peers and pals have passed away, particularly during the last decade. But MERCY isn’t some late-in-life Hail Mary for relevance so much as the continuation of a long career’s work with wonder. Cale has always searched for new ways to explore old ideas of alienation, hurt, and joy; MERCY is the latest transfixing find of this unsatisfied mind.
For nearly 60 years, or at least since he was a young Welshman who moved to New York and joined the Velvet Underground, Cale has been reinventing his music with dazzling and inspiring regularity. To wit, in those early days of fundamentally changing rock ’n’ roll, he was also making ecstatic viola drones and playing with La Monte Young’s epochal ensemble. There was the bewitching chamber folk of Paris 1919 (1973) followed instantly by the gnarled rock of Fear (1974), the provocative and spare song cycle Music For A New Society (1982) followed more than 30 years later by mighty and unabashed electronic updates. Are there straight lines between collaborators Lou Reed and Danger Mouse and Sharon Van Etten, or between the avant-garde of downtown New York in the ’60s and that of the Internet right now other than John Cale?