M:FANS/Music For A New Society
, January 7th, 2016 18:23
John Cale's relentless piano hammerings can be heard, not too faintly, in the backdrop of many an early Velvet Underground record. His accompaniment on the title track 'White Light/White Heat' is one of the first pieces of music to invoke the visual repetitiveness of driving, something we'd usually ascribe to Krautrock. You wouldn't have been able to hear John Cale's classical training very easily on these early Velvet Underground records, but his playing is calculated; he treats the piano as a percussive device, to guide and anchor the groove of each track.
But after having been fired from the band in 1968, Cale was able to take his solo work down routes that Lou Reed would never have allowed for. His own work was explicitly intellectual, quaint and anti-rock before anti-rock became a tired concept. An early precursor to the sentiment of twee indie, Paris 1919 name-drops Graham Greene and the Queen. And continuously, Cale still seeks to position his albums very much in the time in which they are made, with Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood being an odd, cartoonish release produced by Danger Mouse. His albums are often overlooked in favour of the late Lou Reed's solo work, that has the cool and emotionally restrained stylistic leanings of his old band. But, over the decades, Cale has taken some commendable risks on his albums, often making stylistic and production changes that Lou Reed would have been more hesitant to trial or experiment with.
Paris 1919 as Cale described, is "an example of the nicest ways of saying something ugly", the album being named after infamous-of-infamous Versailles Conference. Music For A New Society, however, is contrastive work that responds to his world's ugliness with ugly music. On this 1982 release, Cale is in his most anguished state and this extends through his lyrics as much as into the music itself. Cale himself stated in an interview with Pitchfork that the album's characters symbolise "lost and twisted relationships", and that M:FANS is his attempt at reframing this album's story with rage rather than sorrow. This album has been recorded with the band who also helped him create Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood. It also contains a supposedly new track 'Library Of Force' (which was actually included in a CD reissue of the album of 1993 as 'In The Library Of Force') . This is part of a double release, including a reissue of Music For A New Society itself.
John Cale couldn't have selected a more suitable timeframe in which to release M:FANS; it jumps out at us from the ball-pond of detritus that was 2015, and has a good rummage around. Although the origins of this album stem from Cale's own past relationships, the lyrics on M:FANS now include more than just Cale's personal life. Referring back to the title of this project's origins, a 'New Society' needn't be a utopian sort, and it's safe to say that this isn't the kind of social picture that Cale is developing for us here on the rework.
M:FANS is a rework but it is still a product of its time. It morphs from the garbled, hysterical, singsong telephone conversation on opener 'Prelude', into 'If You Were Still Around', with a dark organ that manages to mimic the sound of a low flying aeroplane. But M:FANS does not sound fantastical or monstrous; instead Cale amplifies the most horrific aspects of humanity into a dark caricature. With 'Library Of Force' we hear Cale proclaiming in a disturbingly authoritative tone that "We kill in the world. We live in it". Which is the darkest expression of the sentiment "you've made your bed, now lie in it". The original track, 'In The Library Of Force', was minimal, melancholic and self-absorbed. This new track is a more expansive piece, made foreboding by the presence of a booming synth that seems to rip the entire song apart from the inside; certainly an effect that couldn't have been achieved during the making of Music For A New Society back in 1982. It would be impossible to say which is better here though, as they both have their own distinct moods that reflect two entirely different moments in Cale's creative life. The original track has a strangely out-of-place piano piece at its conclusion, which is sadly missing in any shape on its M:FANS alter-ego.
But don't get me wrong; just because this album taps into dark themes does not mean that its tracks sound tired or defeated. Even at its weakest ebb, the album still finds strength to push out. 'Changes Made', which started off as an ambling wander on Music For A New Society becomes on M:FANS spiked up into a Joy Division-esque march that is tongue-in-cheek yet defiant, at the end of which Cale bids us farewell with a faux-English "fuck off, bye bye". As if part of Cale is fighting or denying his own preaching, this track storms down over the doomy sentiment that swathes most other tracks on this album. Expression through music doesn't have to be wholly correspondent to one's frame of mind or of one's current emotional state; it can work as a defiance against a state of affairs that one does not want to be a part of. The remastered version of this track is equally superb and a vast improvement on the original recording.
With this double album, Cale does not leave out fans of the original workings of the tracks on Music For A New Society. One can speculate that Cale did this also out of respect for his past creative self; the album reflecting the incredible state that he participated within in order to achieve these songs. The original Music For A New Society contains greater subtleties than M:FANS at times, and the remastering really does work to make this sound more distinct and fresh than it did in its original incarnation. The remastering of 'Damn Life' is a prime example; the track sounds better mixed and is now less muddy, doing justice to the emotional intensity of the piece. And M:FANS perhaps loses some of those dissonant, euphoric yet deeply melancholic moments that Music For A New Society has to give us; tracks where it seems a self-consuming feat for Cale to bring himself to sing. But the two work in a partnership rather than against each other. With the creation of Music For A New Society apparently still on Cale's mind, one can well imagine that its budding into M:FANS was as a process cathartic.