Thursday, May 31, 2007

In the Library of Force

[I was going to start this with, "You might wonder why I didn't include 'Music for a New Society' in the essentials list." Then I noticed a comment on the introduction post calling me out on the omission, heh heh. Fair enough. I keep vacillating on it. The material is generally strong, it's a unique album in modern music, and it has one of the best album titles around. It is Cale's nakedest-feeling recording. On the other hand, I think it a bit overrated, at least insofar as most of his catalog is underrated and neglected. Its extreme low-fi nature is effective, but it gives me pause, as well - the mistake on Chinese Envoy, while surely intentionally left in, doesn't add anything. Finally, it doesn't entirely gel as an album. Quibbles aside, if it were in-print and affordable, it would certainly be on the list. However, I paid 12$US for my cassette tape of it and more than twice that, nearly a year later, for my CD copy. It is a great record, but I can't call it essential until it comes back into print. ]

The difference between the original version and the reissue of Music for a New Society, other than a vanishingly small sound quality improvement on the CD, is "In the Library of Force." It's a unique track. Like most of Music for a New Society, it's incredibly spare musically. Silence keeps poking through the noise like sunlight filtering through clouds and torn cloth. It's more or less atonal: disconnected instrumental bits (synthesizer, drum, acoustic guitar) play randomly, occasionally interacting with one another or the vocal before breaking off again. Meanwhile Cale rants about "the library of force," seemingly a metaphor for the political enabling and rationalizing of violence. It's not the most coherent metaphor - I think the lyrics are improvised - but the vocal is compelling and the images memorable: "Glittering from pages come the precious stones of guilt." Maybe it's the way he sings it, I dunno.

And then the clouds pass, and a beautiful and serene new melody is played on a piano. This darkens with forcefully played minor chords, then brightens, then goes mysterious. The piano piece ends without resolution. A kick drum sounds, and silence reigns.

I think very highly of this piece. It's one of the most satisfying "classical" compositions Cale has done, and yet here it is on a "songwriter" album. If you treat the lyrics as stage dressing and the music as the real content, you'll get more out of it. I'll admit most people would find it unlistenable. There's only one way to find out if you're one of them.

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