John Cale: Poptical Illusion review – counterculture icon finds his fun side

<span>In a playful mood … John Cale.</span><span>Photograph: Madeline McManus</span>
In a playful mood … John Cale.Photograph: Madeline McManus

John Cale is now 82, but his formidable work ethic shows no sign of slowing down. His second album inside a year again originates in the 80-song creative splurge he enjoyed during lockdown. If 2023’s Mercy seemed to rage against the dying of the light – revisiting a few ghosts from his past and settling a few scores along the way – Poptical Illusion positively embraces it. “Make it happen for you in the future / It’s a better life than in your past,” he sings on the gently euphoric Davies and Wales, reflecting: “And avoid all the mistakes we made when we were younger, we don’t care who we hurt on the way up.”

The dark global situation informs the jagged guitars and industrial beats of Company Commander (“the rightwingers burning their libraries down”) and Edge of Reason, but even then he is able to glimpse hope “through the rain”. Even the ominously titled I’m Angry turns out to be one of his most dreamlike songs. The mood is playful, as these textural songs dip into synths, noise, hip-hop grooves and – for Shark-Shark – a vintage Velvet Underground roar. He brings his decades of experience and one of his strongest choruses to bear on the marvellous How to See the Light – a reflection on how the end of a relationship can bring new wisdom and the chance to try something else. It could be a metaphor for his brilliant career.