POPtical Illusion by John Cale album review by Greg Walker for Northern Transmissions


POPtical Illusion

John Cale

“Call me out again,” John Cale, who is in his eighties and putting out his second album in two years (!), has named his latest album the tongue-in-cheek but revelatory title POPtical Illusion. He’s got a sense for what will work, in a non-conventional way, bringing, for example, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” to the masses some years ago. And the story goes, Cale wrote upwards to 80 songs (one for each year of his life) in a flood of inspiration during the pandemic, a continuation of his illustrious underground career, and these two albums are the cream of the crop.

While his last album called Mercy included cutting edge artists like Weyes Blood and Animal Collective, this record is Cale on his own, lamenting climate change at the hands of greedy corporations (“I set the trees on fire / It’s the best way”), his hope in the midst of existential anger (“Who’s that dancing / in the night?), and dealing with the paradoxical nature of humanity at the “Edge of Reason” (“How can I help you see mankind / Is oh so kind / We tear it all apart”).

“Make it happen for you in the future / It is better than in your past,” he sings on the rollicking, beat-driven “Davies and Wales.” And this album finds him leaning more into his “pop” sensibilities than the mournful Mercy record, containing some of the best songs of his I’ve heard, like the impeccably written “How We See The Light,” and the post-punk goodness of “Shark-Shark.”

While some people are spending their elder years on the beach drinking margaritas, or drinking away their regrets, Cale is still at work, sending out a clarion call that the struggling world needs our voices: “There’s always room for change, my friend / I want you to explode.” The poetry on the album, whether it’s comparing himself to the disillusioned Wizard of Oz or calling out those who smile in his face and stab him in the back, is hearty and heavy at once.

Like David Bowie and Leonard Cohen before him, both artists that he shares sonic similarities with, Cale is a lifelong artist. His compassion and righteous indignation and unique artistry drips from each track. It is an hour long offering, but there is a good deal of variety from track to track. He makes use of his anger, his hope, his love for music and the human race, to put out an album that utilizes pop and critiques the machine that churns out heartless popular music. But for Cale, it’s “All To The Good.”

order by John Cale HERE


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