There has to be a better way to do this. “This” being the artistic/creative expression of dissenting political conviction, especially when the mainstream corrals and bullies such sensibilities into the margins. I mean, this is the real 21st Century, well after the deliberate destruction of two giant skyscrapers and the subsequent cynical manipulations of that atrocity—an age of new diseases, new ways to carry them, new threats, new economic imperatives and a newly solidifying religious fundamentalism in both the West and the Middle East. Seriously, who isn’t scared? Who—other than religious fanatics of all stripes, weapons manufacturers and mercenaries—is genuinely behind the idea of war (the statistical pretzel-logic of political pollsters and pundits notwithstanding)?
Well, two musicians known as Kelly and Mudge, from Australia, want you all to know that they think war just fucking sucks massively, and to prove it, they’ve assembled a ragtag collection of musical artists to bolster their case. Their website is definitely worth a visit. Problem is, “Masters of War” has already been written. Eric Bogle and his Green Bands Playing Waltzing Sons Coming Home in Boxes has said it . . . again and again and again and again. We can beat the drum slowly and play the fife lowly as long as we want, but human beings continue to rattle their spears, paint their distorted faces and blithely disembowel their neighbours with alarming frequency and alacrity.
The question here is: can music make a difference? We could probably debate the whole preaching-to-the-choir thing forever, or whether music is an adequate vehicle for social reform, but the bottom line, these days, seems to be whether sales can provide enough revenue to the peace movement (in this case) to make the whole enterprise worthwhile.
Which is all an incredibly long-winded way of saying that a review of this double CD seems superfluous and kind of silly. It misses the point. Many of the usual suspects are gathered together along with some equally glaring omissions—where the fuck are R.E.M. and the Beastie Boys, for example, both of whom hastily released their antiwar polemics right after the US kicked off Gulf War II? (The former’s “The Final Straw” was not half bad, either.)
Present and accounted for are the unsurprising likes of Ani DiFranco (is it me, or does Ani sound—and come to think of it, look—more and more like a double-x chromosome scream-free Zack De La Rocha every year?), Billy Bragg, Sleater-Kinney, Massive Attack, Yo La Tengo, Roots Manuva. Not to mention such notable resurrections as Crass, Public Enemy and Midnight Oil. Given this admirable yet predictable showing, it’s conceivable—a pipedream, I know—that the Britneys and Justins of the world, with their massive popularity with a younger demographic, might have made a greater impact. I’m just saying.
Though the music is pretty much irrelevant, I’ll give props to DiFranco for her mannered slam poetry on “Self Evident”(it may be stylistically grating, but it’s still worth hearing for her dismissal of Dubya as “some prep-school punk” who is “not President”); to Chuck D for these fiercely ambiguous lines—“I ain’t callin for no assassination / I’m just sayin who voted for this asshole of our nation”—on Public Enemy’s “Son of a Bush”; to a surprisingly infectious “Jacob’s Ladder (Not in my Name)” by Chumbawamba, featuring folk guitarist Davy Graham and a sample of old folkie Harry Cox. Many of the songs here are more interesting than they are representative of the artists’ musical styles and directions. Asian Dub Foundation, on “Not in our Name”, perform a compellingly rhythmic remix of a speech by Anglo-Pakistani political dissenter Tariq Ali (featuring the droll line: “. . . why is [Tony Blair] so constantly ensconced in the posterior of the American president?”) while relative unknown emcee Paracat, with his London crew the Unpeople, use a John Pilger speech as a springboard for an arresting underground rap. It does seem redundant to single out individual songs on the basis of either weakness or strength. Suffice it to say, this is a patchy agglomeration of folk, rock, punk, dub, R&B, dance, hip (and trip) hop, with no focus other than a mass disapproval of US foreign policy (occasionally fuzzy, occasionally incisive as a laser), and whose impact is somewhat (although not wholly) dispersed by such a wide, splashy palette.
In the end, this thing hangs together like a string of Christmas cards—well-meaning, kindly, yet to all intents and purposes a kneejerk convention. Sure, there’s a common theme and a shared motivation—it’s expected after all—but once the festivities are over (and we’ve all been able to feel good about ourselves), the whole shaky array gets pitched into the recycling and nothing of note, nothing significant, has really been achieved at all.
Yet, having said that, what remains here is an ostensibly united front, however artificially packaged. If you support the antiwar movement—something not necessarily synonymous with being pro-peace, mind—buy this compilation. All proceeds go toward “non-violent groups working to end war and make peace”. An admittedly wide net, but can it really hurt? Ultimately, it’s your call, your choice to donate. Just remember, any decision based on the music alone is pretty much secondary at this point.
// Notes from the Road
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