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John Cale - Poptical Illusion (Album Review)

Wednesday, 12 June 2024 Written by Chris Connor

Photo: Madeline McManus

John Cale has never been one to stand still, whether as a member of The Velvet Underground or subsequently as a prolific and highly influential solo artist and producer. Now 82, he returns with the aptly titled ‘Poptical Illusion’, showing he has no intention of slowing down any time soon. It is another creative flex from a master of reinvention.

Typically, the opener God Made Me Do It (don’t ask me again) doesn’t sound like the work of someone content to mark time. Full of modern production flourishes that play off his weathered vocals, it’s neatly balanced with the equally contemporary Davies and Wales, which has a reflective edge thanks to its links to his early years in Carmarthenshire.

While 2023’s ‘Mercy’ was a collaborative project featuring Fat White Family, Animal Collective and Weyes Blood, this record is more of a pure solo effort built around synths, pianos and organs. In turn, it has more of a personal feel, spotlighting Cale’s vocals and lyrics. 

He continues to innovate and try new things. Edge of Reason’s drum loops and lo-fi production feel like they could have come from a ‘90s Massive Attack or Portishead album, offering an expansion on the sound found elsewhere on this record. There is a warmth to Cale’s voice in his twilight years and, while showing vulnerability, it still has plenty of power. 

The sound of I’m Angry conflicts slightly with its title — it is subtle but contains some of the most beautiful moments on the record, with a haunting baroque quality to it. How We See The Light, meanwhile, is more in your face and upbeat, showing Cale’s ability to shift effortlessly between styles and moods, never sticking to one lane. 

‘Poptical Illusion’ is another telling reminder that artists can continue to be creative later on in life, with Cale releasing some of his most interesting soundscapes to date in this spellbinding collection. He continues to innovate and will doubtless carry on for years to come, with this startling, challenging and often fascinating collection another feather in his cap. 

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