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Black Acetate


John Cale - Black Acetate
iconIt seems like only yesterday I was gushing over John Cale’s outstanding album, Hobosapiens. So it was with a bit of a surprise that I saw his latest musical delicacy, Black Acetate, on iTunes just a safe year apart. What does one better, though, is the fact that the approach with this album, while so very different from the experimental loops and drumbeats of the first, unconventionally stays on top with its own ferocity. Though lacking in any overt political overtones, Black Acetate is the album I’ve been hoping for from the musician. Calling back to a time when he was frighteningly fond of leather, Cale successfully marries his most base and guttural instincts as a composer to craft an album of catchy punk/pop melodies, sans the popular stench of, say, Good Charlotte. In short, there’s a lot more guitar, less production layers, but absolutely no sacrifice in atmosphere.

Eschewing my own instinct to be cute, I’ll admit I was going to write this entire piece comparing Black Acetate to the Dandy Warhols’ latest offering, Odditorium or Warlords of Mars. But why the hell bother? Compared to Cale, they’re just a bunch of posers, shamefully lifting the essence of his real-life acquaintance for their own namesake. And their fourth offering to date is easily less gratifying then the music veteran’s, like, umpteen-millionth record. Yes, this is finally a John Cale album you can listen to in your car. So look out Courtney Taylor Taylor. You’ve just had your ass handed to you by a 63 year old.

As if mockingly predicting this feat, Cale opens the album with a classic yet underused technique to disarm the listener. The first song, Outta the Bag, hits it up full falsetto, instantly purging any images of a hoity-toity art demigod driving the helm. From there the album easily shifts into the Euro-traveling romance of For a Ride. The mood changes somewhat abruptly with the avante garde antics of Brotherman, but to good effect. As we’re reminded by the Welsh (some would argue) genius during the track’s opening, “I write reams of this shit everyday.” The song then builds up to a tense fever pitch, reminding the listener that this is, after all, a John Cale record. Satisfied, with it’s slow tempo and toy carousel rings, holds a powerful and moving message of hope, and shows that sometimes emotion is given better to ambiguity.

It will remind us
Of what’s inside us
How closely things we feel
Will touch and make us whole
It may surprise us in the end

And You’ll be wondering at it
I’ll be standing by
You’ll be smiling at it
And I’ll be wondering why

Will it stand the test of time?
It will stand the test of time
It will stand the test of time

Featuring a fittingly opposite but complementary female voice, Gravel Drive echoes a serene, almost chapel-like ambiance. Similarly haunting is the Southern marsh delivery of In a Flood , which poignantly places the subject somewhere “down in Mississippi.” Building back momentum, we’re given Hush, a sexy funk-tronic number worthy of early Prince. It’s definitely more libido than I’ve ever heard from Cale, which causes me to wonder why he’s waited well into middle age to express that particular part of him.

The second side of the album seems to repeat the formula of the first and gives us the clearly radio-intended Perfect. It’s a catchy, non-confrontational number, and practically begging to be used in some sophisticated-but-cool television marketing campaign. (Hey, that never hurt Iggy.) From there, we practically bleed right into the true rock form of Sold-Motel. With it’s edgy guitar riff and screeching solo, it shows up any thought of Cale being out of touch. As if there were still any need to squash that premise, we’re given Woman, a hotly back-beated mix with heavy guitars and a Willem De Kooning styled attitude. Closing out the disc are Wasteland and Turn the Lights On, two rock songs that could easily be mistaken for contemporary David Bowie were Cale’s voice not so readily distinct.

All in all, I’d say this solidifies what I think is one of the most envious careers in all of rock history. Not only is John Cale guarunteed a position as one of the most important pioneers in modern music, he also has the distinction of never selling out in his solo career, and—perhaps most importatly—he’s never turned dull in the process.


John Keogh
17 November 2005 @ 1pm

Sounds good! I’ve been disappointed by most of his recent albums, except Songs for Drella; my favourite is Fear.

19 November 2005 @ 5pm

Sounds like I need to add Black Acetate to my wish list! I to am at the end of my rope with the Dandy’s, I mean I love them, but would rather see the spotlight shifted to Anton and the boys from Brian Jonestown Massacre, maybe this time they would not run for cover! The Dandy’s seem happy with just doing the same old thing over, and over, and over, and over and well…

19 November 2005 @ 9pm

I feel the same way about the Dandys every time I get one of their new albums, but damn it if that disc doesn’t stay in my car for a solid year every time too. I haven’t seen DiG! yet, which I presume is your “run for cover” reference, but I intend to soon.

26 November 2005 @ 1am

Dig is great and yes part of my reference to run for cover comes from the film, but also from the three cds of BJM I own. At times it becomes confussing if BJM is copying the Dandy’s or if the Dandy’s are copying BJM, or if they are not one in the same.
If you have never heard BJM I strongly suggest you get a copy of there ( greatest hits of sorts) Tepid Pepperment Wonderland. Its a double cd and one of the few that seems to be recorded on equipment that allows fans to actually hear and understand them. Anton Newcombe( singer and only solid member of BJM) should already be a star, but instead he is just a underground icon!