Michael Franti and Spearhead
Everyone Deserves Music
Boo Boo Wax
Michael Franti has finally given up on remaking hip-hop in his own image (Beatnigs, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, early Spearhead) and realized that he is who he is: the multiculti boho hippie/dread prince of good intentions. Gone are all pretentions of being musically edgy, all attempts to connect with the audiences who have by and large rejected him. He’s playing to the choir now, and he sounds comfortable as hell that way.
So what he does here is just play twelve songs that — as long as you don’t expect them to be hardcore or recognizable as rap — sound great and say all the right left-wing things. “What I Be” rides an ambient reggaefunk groove while Franti declares his love for trees and the rains and the sun and the earth and says that if he were sex he would make sure everyone had lots of it, and always had access to condoms. That’s just so…adorable!
It keeps on like that. “We Don’t Stop” is major-league radicalism in song form, which succeeds on some level despite extreme corniness. In fact, that’s the success of this record: Franti has decided that he doesn’t care if he’s thought corny or not. The title track is about as soft as it gets, both musically and sentimentally (the dude even says that Iraqis deserve music! No wonder he was being investigated by Homeland Security earlier this year [yes, he was]). But he means it so hard that it’s all good. “Love Why Did You Go Away?” is like Bread or Chicago after say 1980, or maybe even Air Supply, except that Franti’s big sincere baritone carries the day: “Love, why did you leave us here alone? / When we dropped bombs upon each other / Picked up guns and killed our brothers / When Dad got mad and yelled at Mother / Where were you?” And when the big funklite beat and the power chord guitars kick in after 1:14, it sounds like brilliant softcore genius of some kind.
There’s disco-rock stuff (“Yes I Will,” borrowing from “Train in Vain”‘s guitar riff and you KNOW that was disco for realz) and reggae stuff (real live Sly and Robbie in electro mode on “Pray for Grace”) and funk stuff (you cannot NOT love the country funk on “Feelin’ Free”) and folk stuff (the unbearably affecting “Never Too Late”) and lots of stuff. And it’s all really well-played by Spearhead, who are an excellent band no matter how you slice it.
This could be a lot worse, I think, even if I didn’t agree with 90% of Franti’s politics, but I do. And it would be a lot worse if I was an ironic sneering hipster who didn’t believe that good intentions were worth a lot. And it would be a big freakin’ lot worse if I didn’t like good music played well and a really well-meaning guy with one foot in rap and one in r&b and another in rock and another in reggae. (Okay, so he’s kind of a mutant.)
But it’s not likely to be everyone’s cup of herbal leaf infusion. So beware. If you’re a right-wing asshole who only likes tough manly lyrics and long wanky solos, then keep on walkin’. But the rest of us should like or love this a little or a lot.
I’m with the latter category.