Album Review: Mercy

Review by: Alisha Verma

Artist: John Cale

Rating: 4/5

Even if you’ve never heard the name John Cale, his fingerprints can be found everywhere, from the scrappy beginnings of punk rock to modern R&B. Cale has cemented himself as a musical vagabond, a title that persists with the release of his new album, MERCY.

The album opens with the title track, presenting a sort of thesis for the album as Cale declares he’s “looking for mercy.” Cale’s bleak lyrics reflect a society in shambles, with “so many left for dead,” and warnings of gun violence. For all the gloominess, the track is bathed in ethereal synths, violins chiming as Cale chants for mercy to “lift [him] up,” a shred of optimism during troubled times. 

“MOONSTRUCK (Nico’s Song)” is a standout track, evidently an ode to the late German singer-songwriter Nico, whom Cale worked with from their early days in the Velvet Underground and beyond. The lyrics paint a portrait of an effervescent, yet troubled woman, bright strings chug along as Cale calls out to his late friend “Please console me / I have come to make my peace.” 

Cale has never been an artist concerned with sticking to any particular successful formula, evident in the disparate genres that make up the sound of MERCY. Cale finds inspiration from trip-hop, psychedelia, and electronic music, blending elements from each to create something equally dreamy as it is gothic. Never does it feel like an old-timer trying to appeal to a younger generation, a trap many of Cale’s peers have fallen into with their contemporary work. 

 “THE LEGAL STATUS OF ICE” is the most overtly political track on the album. Featuring indie rock band Fat White Family, it’s an unnerving seven-and-a-half minutes of fiery guitar and harsh percussion. Yet, despite the lengthy runtime, the song never overstays its welcome. 

“I KNOW YOU’RE HAPPY” featuring Colombian-Canadian singer Tei Shi is a brilliantly layered, dreamy track with a catchy chorus. Cale’s deep drawl and Shi’s crystalline pipes work in great harmony, coming to a climax with a searing guitar solo. 
MERCY is a sultry exploration of a society at a crossroads. More so, it’s a portrait of a musical vagabond, always on the search for new sounds to experiment with. It’s evident that Cale, for all his years in music, hasn’t been bogged down by his legend status. Over sixty years later, he’s still going strong.