John Cale - Music for a New Society/M:FANS

by Hayden Harman Rating:8 Release Date:2016-01-22

It’s difficult to accept that John Cale’s contemporaries are beginning to pass away. It seems like the whole world lost its bearing after David Bowie’s recent death, and Lou Reed’s passing in 2013 certainly left a giant void in the music world. That particular loss greatly affected Cale, which is partly why we have this reissue and a new album. But I’ll get to that later.

Music For A New Society, Cale’s eighth solo studio effort, was originally released in 1982 but remained unjustifiably out of print for over 20 years. This has always perplexed fans, as it is a high point in his discography, an album that should be counted among Paris 1919, his mid-70s stream of albums for Island, and obviously the pioneering art rock work with The Velvet Underground as one of the Welshman’s most enduring musical statements.

It’s easy to label Music For A New Society as Cale’s most cynical and bleak album, but both of those sentiments were not new to him (“

, he repurposes Beethoven’s Ninth as a stinging slap across the face to the notion that humans experience any sort of lasting happiness. An ode to joy this is not.

However, this album features some of his best and most heartfelt songwriting in tracks like “Close Watch,” “Thoughtless Kind” and “Chinese Envoy.” This reissue adds stripped-down outtakes of the latter two songs, along with the previously unreleased claustrophobic synth-workout, “Library of Force.” In a culture saturated with reissues, Music For A New Society is certainly one of the most welcome and deserving releases.

Now we get to M:FANS, the reworked, new recordings of songs from Music For A New Society. Cale brings in younger collaborators like Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman, but what makes M:FANS seem fresh is the energy and life Cale injects into these songs. As a whole, the album might pale in comparison to his original album, in large part due to the new glossy production, but there are still many standout moments like “Broken Bird” and the excellent album closer, “Back to the End.”

During the initial recording of M:FANS, Cale’s longtime friend and collaborator, Lou Reed, died. He said that inspired him to change direction and instill the songs with a new sense of urgency. Cale dedicated “If You Were Still Around” to Reed, which appears in two separate versions on the album. It seems trying to close a painful chapter of his life only reopened old wounds caused by lost relationships.

That sense of loss is something so personal that, as a complete stranger, it feels strange to comment on. It must be a very difficult thing to live to see your old friends die, and to make sense of your own scarred history. But Cale bravely suits up and faces the music; in this case, his own music. As Cale recently wrote, from sadness came the strength of fire. All I know is you can certainly hear that in these songs.

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