Thursday, December 18, 2008

John Cale - Music For a New Society

For Howard. John Cale's most challenging, difficult and (to me) his best solo work.

"It's difficult – it's enormously difficult. It might have been expected from a master ironist that music for a new society turns out to resemble a series of requia. Songs begin to take form and crack and dissolve like angels of icing. There is no hopeful circumlocution. When, halfway through the second side, 'Changes Made' seems about to give birth to the optimism of a fresh world, the following 'Damn Life' breaks it down again.

It would be unbearable – parts of it are, particularly the sluggish agonies of 'Santies' – if not for Cale's elegiac touch. It's a heartless gesture to include a snatch from Beethoven's 'Ode To Joy' during 'Damn Life', but compassion finally overtakes despondency. The people in Cale's world are blind and sorrowful creatures destined for unpleasant ends, yet he is at pains to stress that it needn't be so.

In the extraordinary lyricism distilled in 'Taking Your Life In Your Hands', the cautionary 'Close Watch' or the frozen beauty of 'Broken Bird' the point of the music takes hold – from these lessons something better should come forth. The atmosphere of baroque meditation renders it a half-brother to Nico's Desertshore, which Cale also produced.

The final frame is 'Rise, Sam and Rimsky-Korsakov', a tiny and ghostly lament sung by Cale in a manner that actively recalls Desertshore's 'Le Petit Chevalier'. It sinks out of sight to fit in with a world wound down... to die in." - Richard Cook

The Chinese Envoy was here

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