[25 October 2004]
In the first place, there can be no doubt that any endeavor dedicated to the cause of incarcerated Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi is undoubtedly a noble one. But with that said, we are left with this somewhat baffling charity released from Rhino, which, while certainly conceived in the best of intentions, is surely one of the most bizarrely compiled benefit CDs in recent memory.
Usually when thematic compilations of this nature are compiled, some effort is made to ensure a common thread through the various disparate contributions. Indeed, of the 27 tracks here spread across two discs, there are many dedicated either explicitly or implicitly to the general ideas of freedom, perseverance or oppression. But there are just enough oddball tracks which seem to have been tossed in almost at random to confuse even a dedicated observer.
For instance, take the live version of Pearl Jam’s “Betterman”. Certainly, it makes perfect sense for a politically inclined band such as Pearl Jam to be included on this disc, but why they chose to include a ballad about wistful romantic fatalism is simply beyond me. Are we supposed to extrapolate from these lyrics that Burma is, like the woman in the song, simply unable to find better government than the military junta currently in power, that the Burmese people “can’t find a better man” to govern them? That is something of a stretch considering it goes against the stated aims of the project, but why the hell is the song included?
Likewise, Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated”. There is no way to explicate this song in such a way that it’s inclusion makes sense as anything other than a name to put on a sticker in the store. As it is, I have a hard time believing that anyone who would buy a CD merely for Lavigne’s presence wouldn’t already have a copy of her album with this song, or would be at all interested in two discs filled with AOR staples such as Eric Clapton and Sting, as well as slightly more recent but no more tween-friendly artists such as Bright Eyes and Talib Kweli.
Coldplay’s “In My Place” is slightly more appropriate, but only just, considering that the lyric “Yeah, / How long must we wait for it?” refers not to the existential longing for human freedom but to the slightly more intimate battle of romantic love. I have to say, however, that the award for most inexplicably placed track goes to the aforementioned Eric Clapton and his “Beautiful Tonight”, a soft-rock staple that has about as much to do with political repression and the struggle for human freedom as . . . well, I don’t know, its hard to think of two things that could possibly be more dissimilar.
I have to say that while it is slightly more appropriate, I am still annoyed by the Sting track included herein, “Fragilidad”, a Spanish language recording of his enduringly popular “Fragile”. Solo Sting is definitely an acquired taste, and your ability to handle him sans The Police depends strongly on your tolerance for pretentious jazz-infused adult-contemporary. To my way of looking at things there are few things more self-satisfied than taking a song of yours that is already insufferably “profound” and singing it in a foreign tongue, thereby piggybacking on the misguided “romance” of foreign life and ensuring that middle-aged moms who grew up with Ghost In The Machine think they’re still hip and PC because they listen to music with foreign words in it. I can only rag on Sting so much because when push came to shove he actually has done a lot of good for the world (like saving a slice of tropical rain forest about the size of Switzerland), but that doesn’t mean he has to be so insufferably smug about it, or that we should let him off the hook for the fact that he hasn’t produced anything even remotely listenable since The Soul Cages (and even that is highly debatable).
OK, sorry to get off on a rant there. Had to get it out of my system, and since I’m not likely to be reviewing a Sting album anytime soon this seemed like as good a place as any.
There’s some good stuff scattered throughout the rest of the disc, a few rare tracks for fans of artists like Damien Rice and Better Than Ezra, and more than a few stilted and uninteresting attempts at modern protest ballads. But there’s just enough of those oddball selections that seem to have been picked at random to make me wonder just what the heck they were thinking. Certainly, the cause of international human rights deserves better than this.
Either they should have stuck to a strict theme or conceived of a different type of tribute disc, because this one doesn’t work. I have a better idea: how about they release a double-A sided single for charity, with the Manic Street Preachers’ “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next” on one side and Atari Teenage Riot’s “Revolution Action” on the other. I think just those two songs would succeed in putting the case for human freedom more succinctly and successfully than these two discs worth of well-intentioned but strangely compiled leftovers.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/various-forthelady/