Album Reviews

John Cale


Artist:     John Cale

Album:     M:FANS

Label:     Domino Recording Co.

Release Date:     01/22/2016


Dubbed a “complete new reworking” of his 1982 album Music For A New Society, Cale’s sixteenth studio album looks backwards in more ways than one.

For starters, there’s the fact that the new record recycles original sounds from the 1982 release, as well as material recorded then that wasn’t included on the original album. One example is a recording Cale made of his late mother singing the old Welsh song “Ar Lan y Môr” (“On the Seashore”), which was intended for inclusion on Music, but was taken off at the last minute by Cale when his mother took ill. Now restored as part of the opening track “Prelude,” the recording resembles a spectral call from the past that prepares listeners for the turbulent material that follows.

Another example of Cale’s mining of the past is on display with the song “If You Were Still Around.” While originally a solo keyboard recital with minimal production, two new versions are included on M: Fans, one of which was previously released in 2014 as a tribute to Cale’s former bandmate Lou Reed. Backed by a choir, electronic samples and percussion, this new interpretation marches triumphantly forward, while acknowledging the admiration Cale shows to those no longer with us.

Throughout the rest of M: Fans, Cale seeks to merge his past and future into a definable summation of his present. Where once old songs were stark emotional releases, here they are beset on all sides by electronic soundscapes and beats. New voices emerge in the chaos including singer Amber Coffman of the indie band Dirty Projectors, who contributes vocals to “Close Watch.”

“Nothing lost and nothing gained,” Cale croons on the track over Coffman’s echoed voice. The same words could apply to M: Fans. Cale isn’t breaking new ground by reinterpreting old material, but he’s forging a sense of peace. Still restless as ever, he sounds like he’s found a new comfort zone. Where he goes next will be a true adventure.

– Michael Cimaomo

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