Another Music for a New Society cut, you say? Yes, yes. Bear with me. I've been thinking about it a lot for reasons that will soon become obvious.
Probably the simplest, sparest track on the album, "If You Were Still Around" packs one of the strongest punches even so. There's hardly any music to speak of: The drum machine at the edges of perception, barely more than a metronome. The organ, nothing but a few chords with some very sparing accents, offering a scale climb where the middle eight should be that serves as the song's only ornamentation. No harpsichord, ghostly electric guitar, electric piano, viola, electronics.
And then there's the vocal. Not the most sober of the album - that's "Close Watch". Not the most carefully expressed - that's "Taking Your Life in Your Hands". But perhaps the one that most carefully keeps to the edge between performance and exorcism, mimicking the underlying tension of the whole album. And the control on display here amplifies instead of soothing the tension.
The lyrics, a contribution from Sam Shepard, seem unusually clear. Addressed to a friend lost to self-destruction, marinating in powerlessness and frustration, they bargain with the lost. The images of cradling and of resuscitation of the first verse, slipping into recollection of the self-harm: "You could ride, like a panther, whatever got into your veins. What kind of green blood swum you to your doom." The most arresting moment, confronting lost opportunities to help: "If you were still around, I'd tear into your fear, leave it hanging off you in long streamers, shreds of dread." And finally giving way to voodooistic avenues for resurrection: "If you were still around, I'd turn you facing the wind, bend your spine on my knee, chew the back of your head till you opened your mouth to this life."
So it may not be very uplifting, but on THIS album it's one of the more heartening and life-affirming tracks.