Music Review: Mercy
Mercy, the new album from avant-rock icon John Cale, is chock-full of ruminations on the state of the world and includes deep reflections of the artists Cale, now 80 years young, has made music with since the ’60s. This is Cale’s seventeenth studio album and his first featuring new songs since 2012’s Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood.
Mercy continues Cale’s experimental mixing of electronic beats, synth sounds, electric guitars, and cascades of strings. Multiple collaborators light up Mercy, including Sylvan Esso, Ten Shi, Laurel Halo, and Fat White Family. Both the song and video for track “Story of Blood,” featuring Natalie Mering from Weyes Blood, seep with spiritual imagery.
Set mostly to slow tempos, Cale describes these 12 new songs as moving through “true dark-night-of-the-soul electronic torment toward vulnerable love songs and hopeful considerations for the future… an album borne of our shared anxieties but forever searching for redemption by whatever means available.”
John Cale cofounded the Velvet Underground in 1964 with Lou Reed and has worked with everyone from Terry Riley to Brian Eno and Patti Smith. On Mercy, Cale pays his respects to the short, intense life of German singer Nico on “Moonstruck (Nico’s Song),” complete with dissonant strings and harmonium. Upbeat track “Night Crawling” recalls a wild night in New York with David Bowie. Cale laments the climate crisis with “The Legal Status of Ice,” and offers mild optimism on “Not the End of the World”: “It’s not the end of the world… tonight.”