EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a series of articles wrapping up 2008.
Michael Franti refrences the world on 'All Rebel Rockers'
By JOSHUA LIEBERSON
STATIC and FEEDBACK editor
Almost every year, I claim a favorite album, and since I am pompous enough to have done this since at least the mid ’90s, the choice was clear. This year, I would say there were about six or seven albums that I could have easily put here, and I feel uncomfortable know two things: 1) by tomorrow, I could change my mind, and 2) it is bound to happen that I listen to an album next year that came out this year, which throw my picks off balance completely. I’ll then try to pretend that I knew it all along.
Nonetheless, I am making my choice, and will try to stick with it: Michael Franti & Spearhead's All Rebel Rockers. In many ways, this album mirrors 2006’s Yell Fire!, Franti & Co.'s prior release. It features Jamaica's Sly & Robbie on production and rhythm, and contains a ton of reggae influence. But rather than a rerun, this album builds powerfully upon the prior release. Without the pretense and shackles of the somewhat singular yet powerful muse of a trip to the Middle East, Franti lets himself expand the subject matter, the sound, and the anthemic pull of his latter work.
The album begins with a clear ode to early Marley greatness on "Rude Boys Back in Town,” which is flavored with ska, reggae and Jamaican dancehall. "A Little Bit of Riddim" expands upon the opener with a bit more flair for that universal world experience that makes Franti so damn appealling.
The album truly takes off, however, with "Life in the City,” a song as universal to the urban experience as it gets, touching the greatness of Stevie Wonder in his writing. "Hey World (Remote Control Version)" follows and manages to lift Franti's game of providing universally inspiring music even higher. Set behind a quasi hip hop rhythm, rock guitar, and an appeal for the world to keep fighting amidst all the nonsense. It's part rebellion, and part plea to just go out and live life with the other people around you.
Despite all the dense subject matter, Franti still seems to have a ton of fun with this album. The pop accessibility of "Say Hey (I Love You)" would make an Outkast or Gnarls Barkley jealous. And the fun just doesn't stop with "I Got Love For You,” another song that would put rhythm in even the stiffest of corporate executive.
Franti's rock sensibility makes a strong return with the rhythmically compelling "Soundsystem,” another anthemic track that seems to refuse to admit there's such a division as a music genre. Franti finds his inner folkie with the "Hey World (Don't Give Up Version).” When overdone, as in Yell Fire!, it's an annoying trend, but here it's a welcome addition. Once again, Franti is appealing to keep fighting, with more of a tired fighter trying not to give up despite the bleak circumstances before him.
The acoustic guitars return for two final ballads, "Nobody Right, Nobody Wrong" breaking down the essence of conflict, from the simple argument to the biggest wars: "They say you got to choose your side, and when it's done/nobody right, nobody wrong/it ended in a great big fight, and when it's done/nobody right, nobody wrong." It all sounds fine in fair in love and war, until Franti reminds us that the deck's stacked in all the wrong directions, closing out with the refrain "one man got a jet fighter and the other a song/nobody right nobody wrong." In the album closer, Franti asks for a personal can of trust and faith in him, and maybe in the world.
As with every Michael Franti & Spearhead album, the self-described "conscious music for the masses" is in full force. Anthem after anthem that connects the universal human experience with a sense that things can and must get better, more humane, more safe, and more comforting. Franti taps into injustice and life's yearning in a way that the fat cat in New York City can feel the same as Tennessee farmer, those serving the military, or even those with little to no connection to western culture. These universal themes drive his music and spirit, and never cease to ooze out of every note, beat and lyric. It's this power that tips the balance in favor of All Rebel Rockers.
The Black Keys — Attack & Release
Beck — Modern Guilt
TV on the Radio — Dear Science
The Roots — Rising Down
My Morning Jacket — Evil Urges
Gnarls Barkley — The Odd Couple
E-mail Joshua Lieberson at firstname.lastname@example.org
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