Various Artists: Peace Not War

David Antrobus

Various Artists

Peace Not War

Label: Peace Not War
US Release Date: 2003-05-20
UK Release Date: 2003-04-21

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.





Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".


The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?


Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.


Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.


Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.


Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.


Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.


Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.


Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.


Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.