John Cale

M:FANS

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John Cale had been careening through nearly a decade of chaotic and paranoid rock music when he took an abrupt stylistic shift with 1982's Music for a New Society, a set of stark and minimal melodies performed with a quiet touch that made the occasional bursts of volume all the more violent, accompanying lyrics that dealt with a variety of damaged lives. It was one of Cale's best and most powerful works, and more than 30 years later, Cale has revisited the songs with fresh creative eyes on the album M:FANS. Cale's new interpretations are significantly more aggressive than the originals, and are based largely in electronic textures (the new arrangements of "[I Keep A] Close Watch" and "Thoughtless Kind" could pass for a gloomy variant on contemporary R&B, and "Chinese Envoy" now has a cool, pop-wise sheen), though they trade nearly as strongly in dynamics as the original performances. If the original album played as a set of stories about desperate characters looking for something like salvation, M:FANS sounds more like a series of scenes set in some future world shorn of hope, and the flashes of humanity and compassion that lurked in songs like "Thoughtless Kind" and "If You Were Still Around" are few and far between here. But where most artists who re-record material from their back catalogs often produce something that's a pale shadow of the original, with M:FANS Cale has come up with an album with a personality and intent far removed enough from the 1982 album that it has a genuine life of its own. If M:FANS represents a world that is colder and less forgiving than the time and place that spawned Music for a New Society, it also confirms that Cale is still a strong and vital artist, and one capable of offering two very different sets of perspectives on these songs that are both bold and compelling listening.

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