John Cale

MERCY (Domino/Double Six)

Contact Jessica Linker, Patrick Tilley about John Cale

John Cale announces his new album, POPtical Illusion, out June 14th via Domino, and shares its lead single/video, “How We See The Light.” Despite the album’s playful title, Cale’s second album in just over a year still contains the same feelings of fierce and inquisitive rage that were present in Cale’s much-lauded 2023 album MERCY, “a deeply atmospheric collection about encroaching doom and the life-saving power of art and community” (Wall Street Journal). He remains angry, still incensed by the willful destruction that unchecked capitalists and unrepentant conmen have hoisted upon the wonders of this world and the goodness of its people. But this is not at all MERCY II, or some collection of castoffs, as throughout his career of more than six decades, Cale has never been much for repetition. His vanguard-shaping enthusiasms have shifted among ecstatic classicism and unbound rock, classic songcraft and electronic reimagination with proud restlessness. And so, on POPtical Illusion, he foregoes the illustrious cast to burrow mostly alone into mazes of synthesizers and samples, organs and pianos, with words that, as far as Cale goes, constitute a sort of swirling hope, a sage insistence that change is yet possible. Produced by Cale and longtime artistic partner Nita Scott in his Los Angeles studio, POPtical Illusion is the work of someone trying to turn toward the future – exactly as Cale always has.


Lead single, “How We See The Light,” is one of the most beautiful and redemptive tracks in Cale’s catalogue, featuring pulsing pianos shifting in and out of phase with steadfast drums, all while assorted whorls of noise billow in the background. Cale considers another relationship’s end and sees it not as a waste of time, but as a chance to learn, an opportunity to get to somewhere unexpected. “Can I close another chapter in the way we run our lives?” he sings, the curious curl of his voice suggesting this is the first time he’s ever asked that. “More decisive in the future, or deliberate in the end?” This longing is reflected in the song’s video, which presents Cale collaborating once again with Pepi Ginsberg, a director noted for “[adding] depth to an already unfathomable piece of art” (FADER) on their previous work together. 


Cale has often said that something shifted inside his mind during the pandemic, realizing that, nearing 80, he was living and working through something that many of his past contemporaries weren’t. He wanted to document it. He wrote more than 80 songs in a period of a little over a year, collectively surveying the range of human experience in the process—humor bled into frustration, regret gave way to forgiveness, sadness tangled with surrealism. What’s more, Cale has never relegated himself to the old guard, to sitting on the sidelines and kvetching about modernity and the way things used to be done. The classically trained violist who studied with John Cage and Aaron Copland has long been a hip-hop zealot, especially the creative ways it wields technology to create multi-dimensional textures or build surprising melodies. POPtical Illusion synthesizes those emotions and enthusiasms into a dozen electronic playgrounds, Cale’s magisterial voice webbing across it all with puns and insights, grievances and quips, and some version of truth.

John Cale has always been a musician of the times, helping to usher in titanic shifts in sound and culture. The bleeding edge drones of his Sun Blindness Music opened the path to The Velvet Underground. The frantic rock of Fear and Slow Dazzle, not to mention his production with Patti Smith and the Stooges, framed a half century of punk, post-punk, and art-rock to come. And his curiosity about the way electronics could be more than a gimmick in rock music served as an inspiration to an uncountable number of crucial scenes. Once again, on POPtical Illusion, Cale stands as a musician of these times. He looks at the orchestrated turmoil of recent history, furrows his brow in disgust, and then turns on his heels toward a future, even if he—like all of the rest of us, really—doesn’t know just what he’ll find or who exactly he’ll be there. He’s simply happy to be going toward it all.