The aural chaos and intense paranoia of John Cale's "comeback" albums Sabotage/Live and Honi Soit seemingly left him with very few places left to go, short of setting back-issues of Soldier of Fortune to music. 1982's Music for a New Society was, from a musical standpoint, a remarkable about-face, sounding calm, spare, and spectral where his last few albums had been all rant and rage; the arrangements were dominated by Cale's open, languid keyboard patterns, and there was far more aural "white space" in their framings than he had permitted himself since The Academy in Peril. But beyond the cool, reserved exteriors of Music for a New Society, one finds a handful of stories of terribly damaged lives; on close inspection, the ethereal opening cut "Taking Your Life in Your Hands" turns out to be the story of a mother gone on a killing spree, while "Sanities," "Thoughtless Kind," and "Damn Life" are full of dashed hopes and painful emotional betrayals. If the approach to the material is a good bit different than what most fans had been used to from Cale, the results were, if anything, among the most compelling music of his career; the open spaces of the arrangements are at once ambient and melodically compelling, and the songs have an emotional resonance that communicates on a deeper and more emotional level than the political hectoring of Sabotage or Honi Soit, intelligent as they may have been. Spare, understated, and perhaps a masterpiece.
Music for a New Society Review
by Mark Deming