John Cale: POPtical Illusion (Domino) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Monday, July 15th, 2024  

John Cale

POPtical Illusion


Jun 20, 2024 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Given his accomplished track record and the way he has been quietly influencing rock ‘n’ roll for decades, John Cale has to be the least famous famous rocker still going strong today. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 as a founding member of The Velvet Underground, Cale has had a prolific career producing records for many of rock’s well known acts (Patti Smith, The Stooges, Modern Lovers, Squeeze), collaborating with eclectic artists both old and new (Brian Eno, Weyes Blood, Animal Collective, Sylvan Esso), while also releasing over a dozen solo records and being appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire. So it seems the octogenarian deserves a more fitting musical title and we should all be intrigued to hear what rock’s elder statesman is up to now.

Cale is always eager to welcome experiments in sound and swings in culture and now with his second album in as many years, hot on the heels of 2023’s MERCY, POPtical Illusion rumbles to life in a web of pianos, organs, synthesizers, and samples. Only this time around it’s a bit more subdued, with most tracks built around simple pop melodies with an occasional slinky bassline, commercial playfulness, or reflective mood. While Cale doesn’t have the smoothest of voices or much dynamic range, he lends his commentary in a calming sort of sing-speak which seems to add a bit of melancholy to the proceedings.

This formula works well on the playful and bouncy tunefulness of “Davies and Wales” and opener “God Made Me Do It (don’t ask me again)” as the loping beat is enhanced with vaporous keyboard sounds. Darker tracks “Company Commander” and “Shark-Shark” are made more appealing with some interesting guitar work and rougher hewed melodies. But it’s standout track “How We See The Light” that reminds us of the type of great pop experimentalism Cale is capable of as it sounds like it could be an outtake from Wrong Way Up, his superb collaboration album with Brian Eno.

Elsewhere though, the subtle effects lurking in the background, although tastefully applied, aren’t enough to pull the rest of the modest pop tunes out of the doldrums, making POPtical Illusion difficult to return to as a whole, but at least it shows that Cale is happy to keep his ideas flowing and moving forward. (

Author rating: 6.5/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10


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