Music For A New Society (Reissue)/ M:FANS
Domino Recording Co.
John Cale’s 1982 album Music For A New Society has been reissued it’s also been reimagined – as M: FANS, a complete re-recording that manages to repeat the material without any of the songs sounding like their earlier recorded counterparts.
I always liked (the original) Music For A New Society, it was the first of Cale’s solo albums that made sense to me as a whole. That’s probably because I had experienced his solo catalogue through anthologies first – two of them. The first attempt to grapple with individual albums was difficult but this one stuck probably because the song Close Watch was an immediate favourite, so that was the key to unlock New Society’s door. Easy.
Its horribly dated production – at least it would have been called that once or twice – now sounds remarkably back in vogue; the watercolour textures of Blood Orange are not a million miles from Cale’s hovering-keyboards sound.
And the standout tracks remain: Taking Your Life In Your Hands as the scene-setter, Thoughtless Kind as the crotchety old man version of Kate Bush, If You Were Still Around’s hollow balladry a hark back to his earliest singer/songwriter reveries and Close Watch, an extrapolation of a Johnny Cash line that became a masterwork all its own. I still love this album and hearing it now, a quarter-century after it was made, it seems more relevant, more in line with what’s happening now than it ever did at the time or any time after.
M: FANS takes these songs and applies the moods and shades that Cale has been seeking across his last decade of occasional music-making. Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood is his most recent full-length album (now nearly a half-decade old itself) and its probably the weakest of his post-Locusts output. Though at the time I enjoyed it immensely. Maybe only HoboSapiens really stands up but with M: FANS – all of the New Society songs in a different order and dressed to suit Cale’s darker, older mood (that’s the mood of his music too) it’s something of a startling revelation. Broken Bird might bear the closest resemblance to its original but the voice now allows him to tell a different story through the same words.
Close Watch isn’t even in the same carpark as its original setting no matter how, um, close you watch…
It’s still a wonderful song, now a digitised lurch with those little skitterings of hip-hop offshoots that Cale has been collecting up to dabble with as he focuses as much on rhythm as a texture, allowing melody to simply fall away.
There’s a game to be had, comparing the songs – lining them up, creating your own third track-order, the New Society original followed by the M: FANS re-capture. Or treat them as the separate albums that they (actually) are. Play one before the other then swap next time or listen to them days apart…
It shines new light on an old and possibly slightly written-off/forgotten Cale album just to
hear it again. And then what he’s done to it – taking all that he’s been working on the last 20 years and applying it to those songs as templates makes M: FANS his finest work in many, many years. Taken on its own it could have been released without any press to explain the origin-story of the music. Let people figure it out or just enjoy it without knowing. But taken with the original album, here sounding rather marvellous and/or just a weird relic (still) it’s more than enough new (and old) music from one of the cleverest pop-music outliers, a man who made magic as an improviser and experimenter, a producer of seminal punk works, the creator of drones and moods and weird textures as well as a great run of singer/songwriter records. Never quite right in the mainstream and never wanting to be but so definitely permeating the culture. Oh yeah, he was in that band too that no one rated at the time…what was their name…wonder if they went on to mean anything much?