War, Grooves and Messages: The Greatest Hits of War

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By Jimmy Smith

What will you do with the bonus CD of remixes that comes with this package? These eight really competent attempts to free War of the seventies and force-march them into now? After regarding it thoughtfully-for you honor the re-visionary aesthetic of remix, current culture’s agon with pop past-you will wrap it neatly in plastic and give it to your Aunt Sarah’s kid, Billy. He is sweet, though not that bright, and this is just the sort of thing he eats up: competent, bass-y, obvious. The remixes will sound just swell to him: new, up-to-date, nineties.

But-to you-War is one of those bands loopily looping through, and over, and against, Time and its tiny constraints, the soundtrack of those benevolently dumb dreams you have when God is in his heaven and you’ve spilled the wine. Many of the album’s key tracks-“The Cisco Kid,” “Low Rider,” “Summer,” “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” (sublime even before it played as Homer Simpson went to meet Dreaderick Tatum, and certain death, in the boxing ring)-were punchlines the minute they appeared, brass, bass, and percussion elbowing each other like the Three Stooges all trying to go through the same door, except the Stooges were in a Valium and Boone’s Farm swoon. And yet the stoned langor of these tracks belies an expertise that honors both the band’s proud ethnicities and dedication to craft. You don’t sound this simultaneously dead-on and chilled without solid Zenfunk credentials.

The politics of such Profound tracks as “The World is a Ghetto,” even the hippie meliorism of “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” are noble and wise and just as eternal as the beats and so on. But lyrics-the package title’s “Messages”-are not the point of War. Even when the words are doomridden and sophomore-poetry-serious (which is as serious as it gets), the Afro-Latin music makes you think of east L.A. storefronts in August and of jolly Midwestern kids lumbering around under a glitterball and of the Dorman High Marching Cavaliers spelling out “Slippin’ Into Darkness” (featuring the glockenspiel as the apostrophe) under gnat-swarming stadium lights. The world may be a ghetto, but the ghetto is a stone groove.

The music of War is about the friendliest ever made. You can even make a place for hippies in your heart when you’re listening to “Spill the Wine,” still the greatest goof on the Sixties ever recorded (as well as so musically adept that you just know these guys could have done, say, Yes even better had they decided to take the “leaping gnome” nonsense as seriously as Jon Anderson and make it the wellspring of a bombasto-Bloat-Rock-aesthetic). All right, the Jose Feliciano track, “East L.A.” doesn’t carry its weight especially, and “You Got the Power” is about as rah-rah as anything you ever heard played for the unmotivated in aerobics class or Junior Achievement induction. Still, most of this CD floats up over the mundane concerns of day-to-day music crit. and into that blissful region where Stepford kids sing Donavon songs to sell you Gap cords. Your cousin Billy will have to come around to that perspective, soon as he shakes loose from the shackles of time.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/war-grooves/