Black Acetate from 2005 was no masterpiece, granted, but one thing’s for sure: that album had class. I could even say the same about last year’s cleverly titled teaser EP, Extra Playful. Well, at least I presumed it was a teaser; the songs were good, had lots of John Cale’s inimitable charisma, and gave you a taste of great things to come. Little did I know. As it turns out, I would now give a lot to have that EP stretched to LP by adding the three or four good songs that somehow ended up on the surprisingly class-less, uninspired Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood.
Creative spark be damned. I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but if this is the best John could offer, then it’s a very sad day for music. This is murky, uninvolved stuff that gives little indication of it being written and recorded by the man who gave us, in Paris 1919 and Fear, some of pop’s greatest albums ever (and don’t even get me started on The Velvet Underground).
You know how sometimes you look at a song title and think: hey, this is going to be a good one. When prior to getting this album I was going through the track list, and saw things like ‘Scotland Yard’, ‘Hemingway’ (after all, ‘Graham Greene’ was brilliant) and ‘December Rains’, I just knew this would blow me away. In fact, only the poor, generic ‘I Wanna Talk 2 U’ (an unlikely collaboration with Danger Mouse) didn’t have the right vibe. Well, wrong again. While those three are average at best (actually, ‘December Rains’ is downright embarrassing), the funky, memorable ‘I Wanna Talk 2 U’ is the album’s most engaging track by some distance. To get it over with, the other worthy songs include the world-weary ballad, ‘Mary’, and the cold, moody and moderately intriguing ‘Vampire Café’ that gets some extra edge via a lovely keyboard line.
Otherwise, quite dreadful. And it’s not just vocoder (though it is cringe-worthy, of course) – it’s the bland, lifeless songs that, for the most part, don’t even threaten to interest you. It’s physically impossible to imagine anyone who would get excited by such lame, stillborn pap as ‘Nookie Wood’ or ‘Sandman (Flying Dutchman)’. Sure, talent doesn’t go away completely, and with a bit of digging you might even find some merit to this stuff, but I seriously doubt that – for talent only means something when it has taste to back it up. Obviously, cheap tunes and Vocoder do not qualify as my idea of good taste.
I guess the most awful thing about Shifty Adventures is that it isn’t even a bad album. It’s just utterly, mind-numbingly mediocre. Never mind The Beach Boys, this is 2012’s biggest, saddest, most inexplicable disappointment.
Released on 1st October 2012 by Double Six Records