Wednesday, 21 February 2018

John Cale - Music For A New Society (1982)

Early 80s John Cale at a personal low point, but a stunning creative high.  Writing and recording to the same throw-it-all-together-and-see-what-happens MO that had produced Nico's Marble Index over a decade earlier, Music For A New Society abounds in memorable production quirks.  After a played-straightish opening ballad (about infanticide, in the best macabre-Cale tradition) on bright electric piano, the fun starts with the inappropriate rhythm that clatters its way around Thoughtless Kind before the track ends in manic laughter and bagpipes.

Next up is a track that's barely a song at all - Sanctus (or Sanities, on the original misspelled release)* delivers its slightly too on-the-nose insight into insanity in spoken word narration as doomy organ and kitchen-sink atmopsherics provide an apt backing.  By contrast, 1975's (I Keep A) Close Watch is given a magisterial overhaul with minimum fuss, but still ends in more bagpipes - don't know about anybody else, but I hear more than enough of those walking to work every morning - but that's central Edinburgh for you.

One of my favourite songs that Cale played when I saw him in early '99, Chinese Envoy is another highlight of Music For A New Society, and probably its most accessible moment.  Cale came up with the uptempo Changes Made as a standalone accessible single, and unsuccessfully tried to exclude it from the album - if anything, it's ill-fittedness with the rest of the record does go quite nicely with its general schizophrenic atmosphere.  It's an atmosphere that continues into the next song, in which lines like "Damn life, you're just not worth it, you're just not worth the pain" are set to a tune cribbed from Ode To Joy, at which point you just have to laugh.  Cale himself attributes this album's continued popularity to the thought that "people like watching suffering".  I think it's just insanely brilliant.


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