This review of the brand new PE release comes from Heather Starks, July 25th on the In Your Speakers website…
For over twenty five years, Public Enemy has made a career out of decrying social injustice and taking on corporate greed through heated political raps that stand unmatched to this day. They were one of the first groups to attempt what is now known as rap-metal, collaborating with Anthrax for a remake of “Bring the Noise” and thereby forcing two previously opposing genres to shake hands and play nice. Without them, music as we know it might sound entirely different. Numerous artists have claimed them to be among their greatest influences, from Kurt Cobain all the way to the Icelandic princess herself, Bjork. So when they announced the pending release of Man Plans God Laughs, there was a collective feeling of excitement in the air.
It could not have come at more appropriate time considering our current state of affairs. “Black Lives Matter” has become a rallying cry for the African-American community, tired of watching young men and women being gunned down by the very people who are sworn to protect them. Riots have shut down entire cities, only reaching a boiling point after initial peaceful protests were ignored by the media as well as the majority of the country. Who better to take on this continuing fight to end racism and inequality than the group that helped bring it to the forefront with songs like “Fight the Power” and “911 Is a Joke”? Man Plans God Laughs is a continuation of their tirade against corruption and hatred, albeit an incredibly short one. The entire album clocks in at just under twenty seven minutes and each song ends almost abruptly, most of them falling in the two minute range. Despite the diminished running time, there is no lack of powerful admonishments and thought provoking lyrical jabs. Public Enemy may be getting older but they haven’t lost a single step.
Taking cues from the new generation of hip-hop by way of Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar, there are some noticeable musical differences from the onset. “No Sympathy from the Devil” (one of two Rolling Stones influenced songs found on the album) starts off like an EDM track, slowly building before Chuck D jumps in with his signature choppy flow. It’s an interesting conflict of ideas since the lyrics confront the issue of ageism in rap music, as well as calling out younger rappers who spend too much time focusing on lyrical gymnastics instead of presenting a meaningful message. Chuck D explained their approach in this way: “It’s almost like that uncle sitting on the porch. He’s not going to be up there talking fast and all big winded. He’s not going to be screaming. He’s going to say three words that will get you to say, “Damn!”
The majority of the focus falls on social matters, dropping uncomfortable truth bombs like on “Mine Again” when Chuck D bellows: “So it’s cool to be black/Until it’s time to be black.” Or the heartbreaking opening of “Give Peace a Damn,” where a child asks his father to read him a bedtime story, only to hear, “Yeah, you gonna grow up and die,” in response. This heavy subject matter is nothing new for Public Enemy but it resonates louder in times of civil unrest. When you stop for a minute and think about the fact that they have been rapping about the same problems for over a quarter of a century, it makes any progress that’s been made seem inconsequential.
One of the most interesting tracks on the album is “Honky Tonk Rules,” a song that was intended for 1990’s Fear of a Black Planet. It samples the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women” but they were unable to gain clearance for its use the first time around, despite the approval of Mick Jagger himself. Sheila Brody of Brides of Funkenstein lends her gravely, bluesy voice and it makes you wish the Stones had been able to use her for the original recording instead of the flat performance they coaxed out of Reparata and the Delrons. All these years later, Public Enemy is still working to bring the worlds of rock and hip hop together, once again achieving fantastic results.
Musically, Man Plans God Laughs is not going to be remembered as their greatest album. But that feels almost intentional; instead of trying to come up with the sickest beats they chose to make the lyrics the focal point of the whole record. The barrage of lambastings about the way of life for African-Americans and the continuing fight for racial equality are a necessary missive no matter how much certain factions might want us to think it’s not. It’s a plea for everyone to take off their blinders and look at the mess we’ve made of the human race and the lives that have been unnecessarily lost in the process. With a message like that, it’s no wonder the godfathers of hip-hop have remained public enemy number one.
Live at Oakland Coliseum, June 11-13, 1981…
Goodbye to Brass City Records (1984-2015) and owner Walt Quadrato (1949-2015)… they will both be missed…
Another look at Blur’s excellent new album, The Magic Whip. This was written by famed critic, David Fricke, and taken from the May 7th issue of Rolling Stone…
How Blur Won the Brit-Pop War
The band’s first album in more than a decade is a dark, seductive set that cements a legacy.
In the Nineties, Oasis won the major Brit-pop battles: worldwide album sales, U.K. Number One singles and gossip-column yardage. But their archrivals, Blur, soundly beat them in exploration and legacy. Oasis wanted to be as big as the Beatles and the Who combined; Blur embodied those bands’ impatient forward march. At their studio peak—the five albums from 1993’s Modern Life Is Rubbish to 1999’s 13—they dissected the generational malaise behind Brit-pop’s lad-ish swagger in a hook-smart rush of mod crunch, shoegazer psychedelia, dance-floor invention, sumptuous balladry and angular alternative rock.
Blur now take the endurance trophy, too. Oasis broke up in 2009, while Blur’s classic lineup—singer Damon Albarn, guitarist Graham Coxon, bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree—has made its first new album in 16 years, one as quixotic and seductive in its modern searching and subversive pop highs as those Nineties winners. The Magic Whip is named after a Chinese brand of firecracker, and Blur recorded the guts of its 12 songs with explosive impulse in Hong Kong after a big Far East gig was canceled. Albarn—Blur’s lyricist, whose solo work and collaborations draw liberally from Asia and Africa—drops local references in the gauzy drift of “Ghost Ship” (“Swinging on a cable/Up to Po Lin,” a Buddhist monastery) and the tiki-bar kitsch of “Ong Ong” (“I want to be with you/On a slow boat to Lantao”).
But there is darker exotica in the album’s spare electronics and hard turns, like the swerve from the Kinks-like “Lonesome Street” to the spongy trip-hop of “New World Towers.” The endless neon and digital addiction in the latter song (“Log in your name and pray 24 hours”); the contradictory funk and willful isolation in “Go Out”: This is travel without resolution, an open ticket through a world made smaller by smartphones at the expense of sincere connection. In “Thought I Was a Spaceman,” Albarn sounds like David Bowie’s Major Tom falling through clouds of church organ and Coxon’s sighing guitar. “People like me fight to keep the demons in/But we never succeeded,” Albarn admits. It’s a gorgeous trip with a cold landing.
Albarn has become a multidiscipline star with bands like the hip-hop conceit Gorillaz and as a theatrical composer, while Coxon has a fine line of wayward solo LPs. They were already too restless, in love with overreach, at Blur’s original height to make truly perfect albums. That hasn’t changed. The Magic Whip could have used more taut “Song 2″-style yippee like “I Broadcast”; “There Are Too Many of Us” is too slender to sustain its repetition.
But you get, at the end of the ennui, a great new ballad in “Mirrorball,” with Albarn singing like Scott Walker holding up the bar in a Sergio Leone Western against Coxon’s wiry shivers of guitar. Blur excelled at this sublime romanticism—”This Is a Low,” on 1994’s Parklife; “The Universal,” on 1995’s The Great Escape—while Oasis flexed their wild-boy brawn. The latter didn’t have enough to last. Blur have returned with inspiration to spare. (RS 1234)