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.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.