I am on a never-ending journey for good protest music. It is among my favorite genres. Although I was a military child, I was raised on country and folk, which allowed me the opportunity to hear Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and others on my dad's record player. Now, although my tastes are more eclectic and I grow bored by the folk genre, I have a special place in my heart for purveyors of such music. However, I have a caveat I need to share...
To be a good protest song, a song must first be "Good." Sadly, this has been the Achilles heal of this genre. There is too much earnest crap out there, whether from the normally reliable Beastie Boys trying to rhyme Bush and Hussein or the anonymous coffee houser reeking of patchuli and hoping to sleep with some hippy chick because he wrote a song about peace and love.
The other important factor in good protest music is that resonates with its listeners by engaging them in a story or argument instead of beating them over the head with a message (see Loudon Wainwright's Pretty Good Day). Lately artists have figured out a way around the accusations of terrorist harboring and anti-Americanism. They have chosen to let us know they support the troops by singing songs to them or (better yet) from their perspective. They have said the things to the powers that be that the troops are not allowed to say. They have stood for and by the troops, unlike the leaders in Washington that sit in plush offices offering soldiers nothing but tired platitudes and rhetoric based upon getting re-elected.
Blow Up Hollywood, a collective of musicians fighting against consumerism from New York give us the moody Diaries of Private Henry Hill which was inspired by the journals of a soldier who died in Iraq. Songs such as WMD, The Pledge and Charge are personal accounts of a young man's idealism, training, loss of innocence, growing dissolution and death. This is hauntingly sad music, inspired by Pink Floyd, Radiohead and Sigur Ros. The power of this album is in its subtlety and beauty. While not as epic as Green Day's American Idiot, its scope as a concept album is equal.
The CD can be listened to in its entirety on the BUH website or their myspace account. Shots Fired is a must listen!
Last week Michael Franti and Spearhead dropped Yell Fire, which is accompanied by a documentary (I know I'm not Alone) which follows Michael throughout the Middle East attempting to understand the conflict from all angles. Once more an artist is smart enough to share his sentiment against this fiasco in Iraq through the eyes of the young men and women stuck defending the grand scheme of career politicians.
Musically it is a hodgepodge. Franti began as a rapper and his recent albums have veered towards a rock/ soul/ reggae fusion. The lyrics are vaguely Christian and very "One World." They can be simplistic at times, but I appreciate his honesty and attempt to positively give alternatives to America's lack of diplomacy. My wife and children love it.
You can watch the video for I Know I'm Not Alone by checking their website out. Watch a film clip here.
Lastly, British sensation and the missing link between Radiohead and Coldplay, MUSE give us Black Holes and Revelations. While not as instantly accessible as Absolution, it follows a similar template of sonically large, beautiful music (like Coldplay could have been or a poppier and more grandiose Radiohead). If you don't like your music symphonic- don't get this album.
Lyrically it follows the same path as albums 1 and 2 (or I would not be blogging about it). It is less overtly spiritual than previous albums and lays down its agenda quite harshly on the opening track, Take a Bow, which I assume is an open letter to Tony Blair (or W). Corrupt/ you corrupt and bring corruption to all that you touch/ hold/ you'll behold/ and beholden for all you've done/ spell/ cast a spell/ cast a spell on the country you run/ and risk/ you will risk/ you will risk their lives and their souls/ and burn/ you will burn in hell/ you will burn in hell for your sins.
I think you get the picture, which is even more stark later in the song (which is quite good). Later songs such as Soldier's Poem learn from the past mistakes of protest songs and "support the troops" like all the protest music I have included.
Listen to MUSE here.
I know some of my readers will not be interested in hearing music which questions the assumed American response to the War(s) in the Middle East. However, good music is good music. And art that proceeds positively out of suffering and anger, but attempts to create when it is easier to destroy is by definition good art (especially when it has a good beat you can dance to).