John Cale - EP: Extra Playful (Double Six)

John Cale is a true rarity – a legendary figure in the world of music yet still able to remain relevant and fresh today, some forty-odd years after he first appeared on the scene with The Velvet Underground.

Released Oct 13th, 2011 via Double Six / By Paul Robertson
John Cale - EP: Extra Playful (Double Six) Whilst plenty of his peers are complacent to either take the retro route, relying on familiarity with their past to keep their careers alive, or else just pushing out increasingly irrelevant, evermore half-hearted retreads, Cale has always been his own man.
Wilful, bold, and brave enough to try something out even at the risk of falling flat on his face – something that hasn’t happened with Cale for a good long while – he does whatever he wants and appears not to give a damn about anything but his art.

So it is that Cale finds himself signed to Domino Records imprint Double Six and releasing EP: Extra Playful, his first studio material since 2005’s BlackAcetate album, and a release that does exactly what it says on the tin. Cale sounds energised, upbeat and scampish throughout the five tracks that comprise the EP, belying the fact that he is a man on the cusp of seventy and thoroughly putting paid to the idea that one can be too old to rock ‘n’ roll.

Opening track 'Catastrofuk' is upbeat, tuneful, perky and slightly reminiscent of the poppier Jon Brion material – which is certainly no bad thing. Cale sounds just as he should too, strident, instantly recognisable and fully engaged with the song and its catchy 'uh-uh-uh-uh-uh, uh-uh-uh-oh!' refrain.

The rest of the material on EP: Extra Playful is a little more subdued than 'Catastrofuk', but no less tunefully confident. Drum loops and electronic elements are integral to the sound, and Cale plays around with the ambience in 'Perfection' and 'Pile a L'Heure' – and also, in the latter case, the treating the vocals with a vocoder effect – making the occasionally minimalist sound appear more expansive.
The only misstep is the oddly out-of-place, hip-hop/R'n'B inflected loping groove of 'Hey Ray' with its call and response vocals and wailing backing vocals, seeming just a tad outdated amongst such stately surroundings, unfortunately.

Such gripes are minor, though, compared to the overall sense of whimsical playfulness that pervades EP: Extra Playful. This is the sound of a man having a whale of a time and showing the world how easy it is for him to do so. Welcome back John, welcome back.