The Music Box's #9 album of 2004
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2004, Volume 11, #10
Written by John Metzger
To say that HoboSapiens, John Cale’s latest effort and first American release in eight years, is both a bizarre and eclectic affair is certainly an understatement, but then again, it’s doubtful that the former member of The Velvet Underground would have it any other way. Throughout his career, Cale has straddled the line between avant-garde experimentalism and tunefully crafted pop songs, and with the help of Pro Tools technology, he joins the creative community of the 21st Century while remaining wholly himself. As usual, his lyrics are darkly dour and more than just a little bit esoteric in their construction, sketchily referencing everything from the fate of Afghanistan to the unraveling of a world led into chaos by misguided American foreign policy and everyone from the Greek mathematician Archimedes to the Belgian painter René Magritte to cartoon icon Charlie Brown. However, it’s the surrounding music — a series of near-perfect melodies, each of which is effortlessly enveloped by a sensory-assaulting aural collage — that causes his poetic words to become a three-dimensional world of splendiferous, Technicolor wonder.
Fusing ponderous string arrangements, noisy guitars, creepy keyboards, and an array of eerily disembodied vocals to a bed of percussive grooves, Cale sculpts HoboSapiens into an atmospheric suite of songs that buzzes with enough dissonance to be downright unsettling while also retaining an hypnotic quality that is impossible to resist. Better still, beneath the densely packed layers of whirring sound effects and space-age drum loops, the album features some rather engaging tunes — most notably, the effervescent pop of Reading My Mind, which obscures the drunken car crash enacted by its orbiting clatter, and the dual versions of Thing, a perky ode to love and lust, that becomes a melted mass of mayhem in its recasting as Things X — that would stand on their own accord, even without the surreally psychedelic disarray. While there are shades of recent works by David Bowie, David Byrne, and Peter Gabriel scattered throughout the collection, all of which largely keep the set from sounding as groundbreaking as many of Cale’s other outings, HoboSapiens is both a remarkably solid effort as well as a welcome return from one of rock ’n‘ roll’s most intriguing architects.
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box