Juxtaposition is not the same as invention. You can always create novelty by bringing two dissimilar things together, but that's not the same as creating pleasure or insight. That's the problem with John Cale's "HoboSapiens," an album whose juxtaposed lyric ideas and mismatched musical styles seem driven more by cleverness than inspiration.
Cale, the Welshman who co-founded the Velvet Underground and who has collaborated with everyone from John Cage to Iggy Pop, has been busy with film and ballet scores over the past decade, and "HoboSapiens" is his first full-length album of new songs in eight years. He co-produced it with Nick Franglen, half of the electronica duo Lemon Jelly; Cale's froggy baritone and art-rock melodies are married to Franglen's bubbly beats and club-land synths. It's an unusual combination, but not necessarily a rewarding one; the resulting songs are neither danceable nor hummable, neither imposing nor revealing.
"The sexual exuberance of a concubine checks my carburetor one more time," Cale croaks on "Things," "with the passion of a thoroughbred and the sensitivity of a moose." This collision of images seems delightfully strange at first, but the lines don't sing very well, and they don't lead to any epiphany; they're just odd for oddity's sake. They're typical of the album's songs, whose references to Andean llamas, Roman fountains, Zanzibar beaches, Parisian ateliers and Afghan wars carry no more weight than stickers on a valise.
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Thursday at the 9:30 club. * To hear a free Sound Bite from John Cale, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8102. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)