Music

John Cale: Mercy Album Review

On MERCY, memory is treacherous. “Not the End of the World” sparkles with a reassuring grandeur, but every time his processed, multi-tracked voice repeats the title, it feels more like a lie. Fuel “The Legal Status of Ice” offers a bitter toast to polar bears stranded on an iceberg; Cale intones, “Ding dong, the witch is dead,” over a tundra of frosty guitars and cracking drums, and the witch may well be us. In other moments, it is the past that casts a spell. “Night Crawling” stumbles around with neo-soul swagger and gets nowhere (relatively for this very subdued collection) fast. “I can’t even see when you put me on/We’ve played that match before,” he cries, caught in a loop of looking back to confirm that he’s still caught in a loop. The centerpiece “Everlasting Days” starts off elegiac, and then Avey Tare and Panda Bear join Cale to dismantle the whole idea of ​​a requiem. Breakbeats remind you that they are named after destruction, words shatter into mere syllables, and the motivations behind making amends are tossed like broken branches into a bonfire of historic proportions. It’s brutal.

Heat is rare. “I Know You’re Happy” attempts a kind of late Motown bop, but flops rather elegantly into first recriminations and then earnest desperation. In the luminous “Moonstruck (Nico’s Song),” he tells his old collaborator, “I’ve come to make my peace,” as soft synth pads echo her old harmonium hiss. One wonders what Nico, who made some of the world’s most beautiful songs while embracing some very ugly politics, would make of Cale calling her “a moonstruck junkie lady staring at your feet.” Or what another doomed icon, Marilyn Monroe, would think of his ode to her, the seven-minute “Marilyn Monroe’s Legs (Beauty Elsewhere),” which sets numerological and phenomenological musings against a quivering screen of beeps, rustles and moans. It’s more Cronenberg than Warhol, but at least not as creepy as Andrew Dominik’s latest Blonde.

Somehow, though, alienation isn’t everything. MERCY is a revelation of the need to connect. It is a need that does not waver as one grows older, while the death of loved ones accelerates. Cale fully embraces this need. In the title track, Laurel Halo’s remarkable sound design is the ballast for Cale’s plea to someone to “lift me up,” an act of generosity in a song about hoping for someone. In a couple of the album’s most devastating songs, Cale’s old friend the piano comes out: For a moment, it’s there in the bluesy intro to “Story of Blood”, a crisp, giddy duet with Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering, who suddenly bursts into some heavenly headspace between SZA and Slowdive. Cale rages against those betrayed by their bodies. “Bring them with me into the light,” he and Mering sing to each other, carrying a load built for two. And when the soul fails, connection is a deadly problem. “Out Your Window” closes the album with, for the most part, Cale at the piano, invoking Paris 1919. Despite all its complexity, MERCY ends with Cale promising to save a troubled friend’s life. “If you jump,” he promises, “I’ll break your fall.” Not stopping, not catching, but breaking. Cale is here, again and now, and still not making it easy for anyone.

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