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Extra Playful
John Cale Extra Playful
Released 16 September 2011
Producer John Cale
Label Double Six
Length 21:32
Genre Rock
Website john-cale.com

The Velvet Underground was a fabled pop group from a bygone era. For the overwhelming majority of the human race they meant nothing. For a tiny fraction of said species, however, The Velvet Underground was a means for them to be vicariously decadent. Wan, suburban adolescents with delusions of becoming rock stars (Ian Curtis, most notably) saw Andy Warhol’s mannequins as the touchstone of all that was potent and vital about rock and roll. They were doped, dependent, decadent; the poster children of a million teenage phases. You grow out of The Velvet Underground the way you grow out of The Cure.

Since their high water mark, 1967’s The Velvet Underground and Nico, popular music has evolved into such a staggering array of forms as to make such ancestral shades appear as sluggish and dumb as the first amphibians seem in relation to swifts. So when such a living fossil as John Cale cranks out his most recent EP Extra Playful it is not so much the case that the listener is unimpressed; it is more the case that the listener cannot be impressed. The album I listened to before Extra Playful was Tarot Sport, 2009’s outing from Bristolian popsters Fuck Buttons. The comparison is not made in an attempt to say that one is better than the other, all tastes being subjective, but it is a measure of how extra playful music can be that Tarot Sport spins in dizzying cycles while Extra Playful wanders along at a speed that would only attract lichen.

Ok, so John Cale has made a slow record. So what? Isn’t the man a genius? Isn’t he a revered genius because he was in The Velvet Underground? Revered by whom? And why should their reverence be respected? There are five songs on this EP. Four of them are alright. Nothing more, nothing less; play them on drive time and no-one will switch over. One of them, 'Ray', is an irritating wander down someone else’s memory lane – lyrics that namecheck the 1960s are either a boorish in-joke for a few of Cale’s mates or a deliberate attempt to court obsolescence in a world in which, according to the US Census Bureau, half of all people were born after 1980.

The vital oxygen required for music like Extra Playful to live is the sound of pseuds admonishing the doubters with a reminder that ‘The Velvet Underground were influential’. So were a lot of things. Why not cut out the middle-man and revere that which influenced them? Why cut short infinite regress at Warhol’s studio and Nico’s Teutonic bellowing? And why consider one particular group, or one particular singer, the font of all that followed? Music doesn’t work like that. Art doesn’t work like that. It is a flowing stream and any one group or artist follows on from that which preceded it as much as they give birth to that which follows.

All that aside, though. This EP, delivered anonymously, would set a foot tapping here and there, but would make its way into very few hearts. It is the name that sells. Though, I doubt he’d care: "What is fame? The advantage of being known by people of whom you yourself know nothing, and for whom you care as little". - Byron

- Paul McGranaghan