10 new political albums that have the answer to everything
By Mat Ward
Here's a look back at this month's political news and the best 10 new albums that related to it (plus a few extra - count them). This column is taking a break and will return at the end of January. In the meantime, look out for "The 10 best political albums of 2017", which will be online by Monday, December 4.
1. PATAPHYSICS - TIP OF THE SPEAR
At the start of the month, the Australian government left 600 refugees stranded on Manus Island as it shut down its detention centre. Film star and musician Russell Crowe slammed the move as "fucking disgraceful", saying he could find jobs for six refugees himself. Days later, Crowe's country of birth, New Zealand, reiterated its long-standing offer to take Australia's refugees. It was snubbed again by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a man who claims to be protecting Australian values, yet is so un-Australian that he couldn't even name a single AC/DC song this month. On November 18, long-time refugee supporter Pataphysics released his latest quality album of activist jazz, which puts the refugees' plight front and centre. As the Melbourne-based musician suggested the album might put him on an ASIO watch list, Turnbull met with the Tamil refugee-taunting regime in Sri Lanka, the home of Pataphysics' ancestors. LISTEN>>>
2. ALEX THE ASTRONAUT - SEE YOU SOON
On November 14, marriage equality activists had the last laugh at Australia's globally-mocked postal plebiscite on gay marriage, when it was revealed 61.6% of respondents had voted "yes". Among the many musicians tweeting their joy was rising Sydney star Alex The Astronaut. The astrophysics student's dream pop song "Not Worth Hiding", which describes her torture as a teen suppressing her sexuality, has reached millions. Two days later, outspoken Brisbane-based trans rapper Miss Blanks released her acclaimed debut album, praised as "leading the way for trans artists". Meanwhile, over in Donald Trump's America, a Republican who had proudly touted his homophobia as a virtue was defeated by Danica Roem, the first transgender official to be elected in Virginia. Roem, who also happens to be the lead singer in a metal band that recently released a whole album of songs about beer, accompanied pop star Demi Lovato as her date at the American Music Awards just days later. MORE>>>
3. BILLY BRAGG - BRIDGES NOT WALLS
Also hitting back at Trump was veteran protest singer Billy Bragg, with his surprisingly strong new release, Bridges Not Walls. "While we take sides over Brexit," said the British musician, "Donald Trump is busy dividing public opinion in the US with his provocative behaviour... How can we overcome our hostility and start rebuilding a society at ease with itself? I believe musicians have a role to play in this process." Other activist musicians that - like Bragg - seem to be getting better with age, include punks Anti-Flag, whose new album, American Fall, was released on November 3. On ska stomper "When The Wall Falls" they sing: "If they come for you in the night, they'll come for me in the morning. I'll see you when the wall falls." Their fellow US rock veterans Living Colour, a radical Black garage rock band who rose to fame in the 1980s, also showed they were ageing well with their new album hitting out at Trump's "fake news". MORE>>>
4. DAVE - GAME OVER
Over in Billy Bragg's Brexit Britain, a fresh-faced rapper known simply as Dave released a record on November 3 that contains far more political smarts than most protest veterans. He rhymes eloquently about a personal breakup, then imagines a similar heartbreak for the whole country. On "Question Time" he raps: "I've got a question for the leader of the Labour Party: Jeremy Corbyn, where do you wanna take the country to? Honestly, I wanna put my trust in you. But you can understand why if I've got trust issues." Fellow Brit Jelly Cleaver showed similarly precocious politics on her debut folk album, which contains poetic screeds against inequality. It also contains an "Ode To Morrissey", dedicated to the former Smiths frontman, which seemed like a good idea until he released his latest album on November 17. The so-called "Mark Latham of mopey rock" promoted the record - which was ridiculed for glorifying the "hard-done-by state of Israel" - by defending accused rapist Harvey Weinstein. MORE>>>
5. TIM HEIDECKER - TOO DUMB FOR SUICIDE
The inequality that Jelly Cleaver sings of was exposed for all too see in the leaked Paradise Papers on November 6, which revealed some of the world's biggest tax dodgers. The media let the biggest culprit - the whole system - off the hook, focusing instead on individuals such as pop stars Madonna, Bono and Michael Hutchence. Also exposed was Trump's Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, just days before he was sent up in the song "Wilbur Ross" on US comedian Tim Heidecker's new Trump-ridiculing album, which is actually funny. Ridicule also came from less likely quarters on November 8, when the Country Music Awards quickly reversed a ban on politics to let hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood change her smash hit "Before He Cheats" into the Trump-mocking "Before He Tweets". Busking outside the venue was Grammy Award-winning country star Sturgill Simpson, who hadn't been invited in. He took to Facebook Live to blast Trump - somewhat less jovially - as "a fascist fucking pig". LISTEN>>>
6. MAVIS STAPLES - IF ALL I WAS WAS BLACK
Taking country music into more reactionary territory was Neal McCoy, who sided with Trump in a song blasting NFL player Colin Kaepernick's kneeling protests in support of Black Lives Matter. Titled "Take a Knee...My A**!", it hit headlines just days after the Sydney Peace Prize was awarded to the Black Lives Matter movement. On November 17, soul survivor Mavis Staples released her 16th studio album, which opens with the words: "Poor kid, they caught him without his licence. That ain't why they shot him. They say he was fighting. So that's what we were told. But we all know, that ain't how the story goes." The same day, fellow soul stalwart Sharon Jones released her posthumous farewell record with the Dap Kings. The album opens with the words: "It's a matter of time before justice will come. It’s a matter of time, yeah, before all walls will be done. It’s a matter of time before wrongs will be righted. It’s a matter of time, yeah, before all people will be united." MORE>>>
7. MARCEL CARTIER - RED FLAG REVIVAL
Also hitting back at Trump's racism was relentless US activist rapper Marcel Cartier. On his new album, he seethes over Agent Of Change's worldly beats: "Make America hate again, it's white pride. Donald Trump is just a Klan member in a tie. Goodnight neo-Nazis. Goodnight the alt-right. Good night fascist scum - see, the people came to fight." The album, released on November 7 as Filipino activists celebrated the centenary of the Russian revolution, also contains the song "Fight Like It's 1917", on which he raps: "Party like it's 1917, fight like it's 1917, struggle like it's 1917 - for the future, you know what I mean?" Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte struck a rather different note, singing a Filipino love song for Trump on November 12. Then, days after Cartier's anti-colonial album was released, a protest album against Robert Mugabe went viral in Zimbabwe as the Western media salivated over the removal of the one-time anti-colonial Marxist revolutionary. LISTEN>>>
8. BOB BALDWIN - MUSIC WITH A MESSAGE
Days earlier, in the land of Mugabe's former colonial overlords, Black British jazz saxophonist Courtney Pine released his new album, containing the song "Rivers Of Blood". It's a reference to British MP Enoch Powell's 1968 anti-immigration speech, whose legacy lingers. Also pushing British jazz into progressive politics were electronic experimentalists Blue Lab Beats, with their new album, Freedom. Over in the US, Eric Roberson released possibly the smoothest soul you'll ever hear under radical, fiery politics, with the third high-quality EP in his Earth, Wind and Fire trilogy. In a similar vein, smooth US jazz pianist Bob Baldwin also released an album packed with sharp politics. Containing the incendiary "Global Warming", it came out as the US said it was ditching climate action in favour of geoengineering. Meanwhile, Australia was dubbed "fossil fool of the day" for trying to sell coal at the Bonn climate talks, all as it planned mines bigger than the Reef-destroying Adani. MORE>>>
9. BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE - MEDICINE SONGS
Trump's environmental vandalism came to an inevitable head on November 16, when the Keystone pipeline from Canada spilled 200,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota. A week earlier, Canadian indigenous activist Buffy Sainte-Marie had released her latest album, damning "bullying, racketeering and systemic greed". On "Carry It On" she sings: "Put your eyes on the Earth. Lift your heart to your own home planet. What do you see? What is your attitude? Are you here to improve or damn it?" Her fellow Canadian Petra Glynt likened today's politics to a bad trip on her new album of psychedelic pop. As the desecration of indigenous land accelerated in Brazil, young indigenous rapper Kunumi MC - who shot to fame with a protest at the World Cup in 2014 - spearheaded a new movement of local aboriginal emcees with his new album. Meanwhile, fans mourned the November 1 death of US environmental activist Katie Lee, who found fame with her protest album Folk Songs Of The Colorado River. MORE>>>
10. PALOMA FAITH - THE ARCHITECT
At the end of the month, as police moved in on the protesting refugees at Australia's abandoned Manus Island detention centre, bestselling British pop star Paloma Faith released "Warrior", a refugee protest song penned for her by Australian hitmaker Sia. It's found on her new album, which is peppered with political samples from activists and even a speech by leftist journalist Owen Jones, who recently toured with her. Also epitomising the spread of political music way beyond the usual confines of punk and hip-hop was Tokio Myers. His X Factor TV performance of a protest song from his politically charged pop album elicited a standing ovation from hard-to-please judge Simon Cowell, whose industry peers used to shun political music. On November 20, pop star Beyonce - whose Black Lives Matter protest performance at the Super Bowl lifted her fame to a new level - was revealed to be the highest-paid woman in music. So what, exactly, was Cowell's motivation? You be the judge of that. MORE>>>
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mat Ward is an Australian-based journalist who has been writing for Green Left Weekly since 2009. He also makes political music and wrote the book Real Talk: Aboriginal Rappers Talk About Their Music And Country.
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