John Cale is anything but a revivalist. Although his most recent release, M:Fans, is a reworking of Music For A New Society, released in 1982, it could be a completely new album. The spare, sparse arrangements of the original album are nowhere to be heard, and the new album has a fresh, modern feel to it without being quotidian. M:Fans does however still has the power and emotion that Music For A New Society has. Though Cale’s voice is a little more obscured by dint of some interesting vocals effects, his gorgeous Welsh burr is still completely identifiable. On the 1982 version, ‘Taking Your Life In Your Hands’ is delicate and lilting, whereas the updated version is slightly more claustrophobic, with distorted, almost tribal, drums and what sounds like a guitar being played down a telephone. However, the emotion with which he sings heart-wrenching lines like “the children are all leaving school today/ Mama said, don’t worry, I’ll be back one day” is not dulled.
The album shows that Cale has not been content to rest on his laurels. As a member of the Velvet Underground for two albums he helped change the very fabric of music forever, but he remains to this day on the forefront of musical innovation. He is restless, ever changing, always modernising. The new album has flavours of Caribou and Hot Chip, ‘Close Watch’ has Jungle-esque vocals and an ambience one might expect from Bjork’s Biophilia. The album is not solely electronic however, on tracks like ‘Thoughtless Kind’ and ‘If You Were Still Around’, Cale has managed to meld the digital and the analogue perfectly.
Though the three-string drone and black sunglasses may have gone, and the synthesisers and falsetto may have arrived, John Cale is still a visionary and that will never change.