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Album of the week with John Cale: Refreshing bloodlust


At the age of 80, avant-gardist John Cale released the modern soul album »Mercy«: instead of spirituality, he found inspiration in the young pop generation. And: the debut of the mischievous Hamburg indie band Uwe.

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Musician John Cale


Madeline McManus / Beats International / picture alliance / dpa

Album of the week:

John Cale - "Mercy"

The song lyrics that John Cale would have liked to have written himself, he recently told the British »Times«, came from soul icon Marvin Gaye: »Oh, mercy mercy me / Things ain't what they used to be / Where did all the blue skies go?

/ Poison is the wind that blows / From the north and south and east«, he once sang on his famous album »What's Going on«.

Soul music is actually always associated with a spiritual gesture.

So the call for mercy in troubled, tumultuous times that Gaye sighed in his lyrically dour but musically light-hearted anthem was in all likelihood addressed to God.

With God and faith, however, John Cale, who will soon be 81, a classically trained violist, John Cage adept, former Warhol intimate and co-founder of the groundbreaking New York band Velvet Underground,

never had much to do.

So how do you finally record a soul album without falling into religious mumbo-jumbo? That could have been the question Cale asked himself in the privacy of his room during the corona pandemic.

The result, after more than two years of what appears to be fruitful analysis and work, is »Mercy«, Cale's first album of new music since 2012. It's a belated triumph for this still restless doyen of the avant-garde.

Like Marvin Gaye in 1971, Cale also reflects the hardships of the present: Right at the beginning, in the spherical title track, the Los Angeles-based Welshman ponders Black Lives Matter, Trump and the endless cycle of politically motivated violence.

Later, in »The Legal Status of Ice«, he reflects on the legal status of the melting polar ice cap and, of course, on the climate crisis.

The lyrics to both songs aren't the best Cale, not a practiced critic of the time, has ever written, they can even be found a bit quirky, especially when the ice song ends in the odd refrain 'Ding dong the wicked witch is dead, dead 'dead'.

But sometimes grace and salvation lie in surrendering completely to the absurdity of the current situation.

Other moments on the album are more beautiful and touching. With a playing time of around 70 minutes and a leisurely, expansive composition, it requires a lot of attention and patience from the listener.

Anyone who gets involved will be rewarded with melancholy, but also hyper-modern music that pulsates with hope for the future.

In an interview with the New Yorker, Cale said he didn't write the new songs on the piano or keyboard, as he usually does, but rather designed them on rhythm patterns before adding the melody and lyrics.

Borrowed from hip- and trip-hop, these patterns are the perfect musical scaffolding to incorporate the many young collaborators and Cale disciples he's been able to attract as guests, including post-punk band Fat White Family, indie intellectuals Animal Collective , electronics muse Laurel Halo and singer Tei Shi,

The high point of the album is the deeply nested but still rousing »Story of Blood«, which Cale, meanwhile sonorous declaiming, sings together with the siren-like US musician Natalie Mering alias Weyes Blood.

God does not offer support and consolation, but the soothing, refreshing flow of your own blood, which you feel in the morning after waking up and which enables you to start each day anew with energy and light in your heart: »Swing your soul«, demand the two stunningly intertwined voices: rock history and young pop avant-garde united in the most redeeming way.

Even when Cale, who after being kicked out of the Velvet Underground became an influential producer (Stooges, Patti Smith, Modern Lovers, among others) and solo artist who constantly researched sound (drone orchestra!), looks back wistfully, he makes sure that his Music repeatedly throbs him nervously and progressively out of the nostalgia clouds: as in the elegiac ode »Moonstruck«, languishing with strings, to the singer Nico he once produced, through which a dull, demanding pulsation thumps against the beat.

Or the surprisingly bold swing beat in »Night Crawling«, with which Cale celebrates his apparently very mischievous time with David Bowie in New York.

A thoroughly gracious pop moment of this sometimes very devout album.


John Cale


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In the bell-bright R&B ballad »Noise of You«, he mourns the inspiring, often amusing noise of his numerous musical companions, of whom Cale is one of the last survivors, but Cale leaves the onset of silence and gloom in private and political life no chance: "Tonight the world won't end," he sings, in the end still a bit humbly imploring, in front of swelling, sacred choirs, in "Not The End of The World".

He himself has not yet reached the end of his creativity anyway: he wrote between 60 and 80 new songs during the lockdown, says Cale.

Unlike other rock and pop contemporaries of his age who are still active, there's probably no need to fear what's to come - if it's anywhere near as powerful and soulful as »Mercy«.


Listened briefly:

Big Piig - »Bubblegum«

Love is often like a bubble of chewing gum: once you've mastered the feat of blowing it up to its full, bulging size, the shimmering, sweet thing bursts - and everything is permanently glued together.

It takes forever to get rid of all the leftovers.

Irish-born musician Jessica Smyth has been singing about these banal but also essential things since one of her very first singles »Crush'n« from 2017. Now the 24-year-old, who now lives in London and LA, is releasing numerous other tracks, Features and massive radio appearances on BBC Radio One their first so-called mixtape »Bubblegum«.

And of course the seven songs tell about the fast, heavy high and the long hangover afterwards.

Biig Piig, who sometimes also sings and raps in Spanish,

because she spent part of her youth in Spain, went through the tough DIY school of the British collective Nine8 and learned how to mumble somnambulist and dreamily sung lyrics to a wide variety of beats without disrupting the flow: »Kerosene« is a crushing dance track with fire accelerant;

»Picking Up«, waiting nervously in front of the silent telephone, explodes in frenzied drum'n'bass;

"This Is What They Meant" is body-shaking disco-pop about that moment of euphoria just before the bubblegum burst, which makes it clear why Smyth is considered one of the great pop discoveries of the year.

»Kerosene« is a crushed dance track with fire accelerant;

»Picking Up«, waiting nervously in front of the silent telephone, explodes in frenzied drum'n'bass;

"This Is What They Meant" is body-shaking disco-pop about that moment of euphoria just before the bubblegum burst, which makes it clear why Smyth is considered one of the great pop discoveries of the year.

»Kerosene« is a crushed dance track with fire accelerant;

»Picking Up«, waiting nervously in front of the silent telephone, explodes in frenzied drum'n'bass;

"This Is What They Meant" is body-shaking disco-pop about that moment of euphoria just before the bubblegum burst, which makes it clear why Smyth is considered one of the great pop discoveries of the year.


Uwe - "Uwe"

The Hamburg band Uwe, which consists of the two first names Uwe and Jansen, that's all you get to know, had a moment of fame last year when they let a deepfake of Elon Musk stroll through the video clip of their song "Junge Milliardäre".

There was attention, a prize and TV appearances.

The cheekiest thing about the snappy single from the associated »Café Togo« EP, however, was the shamelessly appropriated Afrobeat in the »Graceland« style.

The two continue in this provo style on their debut album: With a Van Halen riff on the piano and a songwriter style, they mock the bigotry of the so-called awareness scene in the very first song: »Be politically correct and still be filthy pigs«.

In addition, the faces of German politicians are creepily morphed together in the video.


but Danger Dan waves a bit wearily from the sidelines.

»Finally old« was actually a piece that guitarist Uwe wrote for Deichkind (that's the environment), but now here as a weird rock number with a banjo waving after the overtaken white men.

»When he was still a rock star« also hits the same note, fittingly all sorts of rockisms, from Buddy Holly to grunge, are twisted through the irony wolf throughout the album.

In »Immer grad an Dich« or »Nachtschicht«, in which Element of Crime and Peter Gabriel join the saxophone solo, they prove that Uwe, and above all the very good singer Uwe, can also do normal songs about the emotional sadness of the mind reach out.

Yes, really!

"I don't belong anywhere," sings the album's protagonist in a song

it sounds like a touching street band rendition of the Talking Heads' "Road to Nowhere."

Let's see where this all leads.


Rasha Nahas – »Amrat«

Only in Berlin, far away from her native Haifa, did the young Israeli-Palestinian musician Rasha Nahas feel free enough to sing in Arabic, her mother tongue.

Her album »Desert« was released in 2021, at that time still with English lyrics and rather unwieldy, at times overly theatrical rock music.

Completely different and much more intimate now is »Amrat«, which translates to »Sometimes«.

Sometimes, she sings, pondering after a trip on the Berlin U8 between Kreuzberg and Neukölln, which sets the atmospheric intro, she longs for her homeland, for herself - and doubts the path to the diaspora that she took five years ago has: »If I wasn't scared I would pack my things and go«.

Her sad, contemplative songs touch you with deep anguish, which is also conveyed across the language barrier.

The instrumentation is light and economical, interwoven with Middle Eastern rhythms, only now and then, as in »Nbeed« (»wine«), Nahas' beloved e-guitar nibbles a bit out of place in their otherwise gentle and groping sounds and arrangements.

The protagonists of the songs smoke a lot and smell the warm country winds blowing over from the Levant in the cold urbanity of Berlin, dream of birds, rivers and freedom of the soul.

is that political

How could it be otherwise when it comes to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

But Nahas, as far as one understands it, does not want to get involved in camp fights, she insists on autonomy - and also the unifying power of music.

They understand the need for a political boycott of Israel,

When asked about her sympathy for the controversial BDS initiative in 2016, but not in relation to artistic activities, she said: »I'm tired of being politically correct.

I believe in people and I believe in art.

I'm sick of nationalism.

I'm tired of putting a flag on every art," she said in the interview on the occasion of her performance at a joint festival of Muslim and Jewish artists in the Belleville district of Paris.

She was in favor of the coexistence of Israel and Palestine, she told the Haaretz newspaper in the summer of 2022, »but it won't work without equality.

The problem lies with the establishment, which does not treat the Palestinians equally.« The songs on »Amrat« do not contain such direct political statements.


Ghost Woman - »Anne, If«

And here are some seductive, incense- and peppermint-scented nuggets for all lovers of hippie folk rock and the psychedelic garage sound of the '60s and early '70s: Canadian musician Evan Uschenko's quasi-solo project, Ghost Woman, is only a few months behind The next half hour of analogue, beautifully droned pop tunes from the very wide field between Byrds, early Stones, Creation, CCR, CSNY, Captain Beefheart, Sonics and Amboy Dukes.

Here, every second guitar riff that he first tickled out of the haze of nostalgia at home alone with a stack of old VHS videos and a Tascam eight-track tape machine from the eighties seems like a familiar or lost sixties hit: »3 Weeks Straight« quotes "All Along The Watchtower",

the instrumental "Street Meet" sounds like "Suzie Q" and so on.

The whole thing is grounded by the stoic drummer Ille van Dessel and Nick Hay, who takes care of everything else and the bass.

Could also be a forgotten garage find from 1970, so authentic and

It sounds stoned

when the trio dabbles into sound nirvana in the excellent »Broke«.

»Groovy«, that's what they say.


Source: spiegel

All life articles on 2023-01-20

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