10 new political albums everyone's talking about
By Mat Ward
1. WILLIE NILE - CHILDREN OF PARADISE
Earth Overshoot Day - the date when humans are deemed to have consumed more resources than the Earth can regenerate in a year - fell on August 1 this year. A week later, Australian farmers were said to be going through the worst drought in living memory. On August 16, Australia's former Treasurer Joe Hockey noted the worst floods in a century killing hundreds in India and, like a dickhead, tweeted: "Please send to Australia... rain welcome party will be arranged." Critics reminded him that his policies had helped wreck the climate. Soundtracking the environmental madness was the new album from New York's Willie Nile, who is often compared to Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. On "Earth Blues" he sings: "California's burning, the fossil fuel clouds rise. When our grandchildren wake us up, how we gonna look them in the eyes?" Does he think the album will make any difference? "I'm a true believer music can change the world, whatever form it takes," said Nile. LISTEN>>>
2. NATAANII MEANS - BALANCE
On August 8, writer Brian Ward celebrated 50 years since the formation of a group at the forefront of environmental activism - the American Indian Movement. Two days later, the son of former AIM member Russell Means - Nataanii Means - released his new hip-hop album, which refuses to give up the fight. It opens with a recording of his late father, saying: "The universe, which controls all of life, has a female and male balance that is prevalent throughout our sacred grandmother the Earth. This has to be acknowledged and become the determining factor in all of one's decisions..." On "Martyrs", featuring late land rights activist Mary Dann, Nataanii raps: "Halos of death and all I see is departure. You poison our land and then you poison our water. You're raping our sisters, you're taking our daughters. We're dying for the chance to live - that makes us martyrs." The album, which blends traditional music with pounding beats and razor-sharp rhymes, is an education. LISTEN>>>
3. MOJO JUJU - NATIVE TONGUE
On August 24, Peter Dutton - a racist homophobe who walked out of Parliament in disgust when former PM Kevin Rudd offered his famed apology to the Aboriginal stolen generations - tried to become the new Prime Minister of Australia in a leadership spill. Instead, he lost to Scott Morrison, a man who recently held up a lump of coal in Parliament like it was the "Hope Diamond". The same day, gay Aboriginal-Filipino artist Mojo Juju released her new album, which opens with the words: "My great-grand-daddy was Wiradjuri. My father came here from the Philippines. It's where I live, it's where I want to be. Oh but you make feel so ill at ease. It's easy 'nough for you to say 'It ain't no thing'. But I'm the one, you ain't the one, been living in this skin. If you want to call me something, call it to my face. But I will not apologise for taking up this space. And every time you cut me down I'm gonna come back fierce. The time is through for being nice. Let's call it what it is." MORE>>>
4. JIMMY BARNES - WORKING CLASS BOY, THE SOUNDTRACKS
If one thing signifies that the xenophobic Dutton is out of touch with mainstream Australia, it's the endless success of outspoken immigrant Jimmy Barnes. The Cold Chisel frontman has followed his bestselling autobiographies and stage show with a documentary and accompanying soundtrack, out this month. Released as activists campaigned to put politicians on an average worker's wage, the album illustrates how abuse, alcoholism and inter-generational trauma are fuelled by grinding poverty. Barnes's tales of his large family, newly arrived from Scotland, scrabbling out an existence in a tin shack in South Australia give context to his compassion for refugees and Aboriginal people - as shown by his defiant appearances on political talk show Q&A. His story is deeply touching, but even those it leaves cold may find it hard to resist his rough-hewn soul on steroids. The music is spine-tinglingly good. MORE>>>
5. THE PROCLAIMERS - ANGRY CYCLIST
Back in Jimmy Barnes's native Scotland, chart-topping twins The Proclaimers released their politically-charged new album, Angry Cyclist, on August 10. The duo are probably best known for their 1987 hit "Letter From America", which railed against Margaret Thatcher with the lyrics "Bathgate no more, Methil no more, Irvine no more and Linwood no more" - the places devastated by her government's industrial policy, which they likened to the notorious Highland Clearances. But they have lost none of their fire. They say the new album's title track, with its references to bigotry, ignorance and fascists, metaphorically compares sweating, angry cyclists "hemmed in" by city traffic with the polarisation of political discourse in “pretty much every western country”. South of the border, Mancunian grime rapper Bugzy Malone railed against austerity on his new album, while prolific Essex Blur soundalike Rat Boy called for "Civil Disorder" on his new long player. MORE>>>
6. CANDI STATON - UNSTOPPABLE
Also calling for revolution was septuagenarian soulster Candi Staton, whose new album released on August 24 is as funky as protest music gets. Staton, who topped charts worldwide with her 1976 disco hit "Young Hearts Run Free", sounds more like she's inciting a riot in songs like "People Have the Power", "Revolution of Change" and "Stand Up". "We're living at a time right now where it's important that music has a lot of influence," she explained. "We're living in these days that we don't know what tomorrow's gonna bring. We have to get out, and we have to make a difference. People do have the power." Also bringing the feminine funk was Icelandic punk Brynhildur Karlsdottir, whose band Hormonar just put out an album of meaty, muscular anthems. Explaining her love of a certain 1990s pop star, she said: "We play punk music and the lyrics are feminist and political, but... despite everything, I just want to be Britney Spears." MORE>>>
7. GERRY SPEHAR - ANGER MANAGEMENT
On August 16, activists protested against gentrification in a rally for more public housing in Sydney. Showing the global scope of the problem was Vermont country musician Eric George, whose new album, Two Hands / Songs of Resistance, features the song "Gentrification Rag". "Long gone the songs and the jokes," he sings. "This old town's outgrown its folks. They never can tell when enough is enough. They're gonna kick out the riffraff and build it up." Railing against the ultimate real estate rogue was his fellow US country musician Gerry Spehar, whose latest album takes a wrecking ball to Donald Trump. It fires four songs at the president - "Thank You Donald", "Freedom to Grab", "What Would Jesus Do" and "Bitch Heaven", which is based on legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie's real-life encounter with Trump’s real estate developer dad. Back Down Under, country musician Graeme Connors was singing on his new LP about being sacked and breaking his boss's nose. MORE>>>
8. JOHN ROBINSON - RHYTHMS, JAZZ AND POLITICS
On August 16, soul music pioneer and activist Aretha Franklin died. Singing her praises was Angela Davis, who described how Franklin spoke up and raised funds for her when she was jailed for her Black Power activism. Davis is featured on the artwork for the new instrumental hip-hop album from rapper and producer John Robinson, who says: "This music is aligned with thoughts of protecting women and helping put Black Women back in their rightful place as the Mothers of Civilisation." Its first track, "Political Prisoner Intro", opens with the words: "From slavery the idea of political prisoners started. We were political prisoners brought here from Africa. Were were political prisoners in order to keep colonialism fat, in order to keep the plantation owners in profit with our sweat and labour. We were kidnapped and brought here as prisoners." It came as educators in Australia discussed the "school to prison" pipeline. LISTEN>>>
9. CAPTURED! BY ROBOTS - ENDLESS CIRCLE OF BULLSHIT
Putting a futuristic spin on enslavement was Californian Jay Vance, who lashed out at the alt-right as he geared up for a gig with his band, Captured! By Robots, on August 18. Vance performs on stage with two robots who play guitar and drums. He says he built the robots himself, but then they revolted and enslaved him, forcing him to tour the world with them, which he's been doing for more than 20 years. Vance has been criticised by some fans for relaunching the outfit as a political grindcore band for their new album, but said defiantly: "If despising fucking white people for their actions and hating Nazis is bad political opinion, well go find another robot band because they should be universal fucking truths." His gig came as Japanese metal-techno outfit Crossfaith released their new album about the ominous rise of artificial intelligence and Amnesty International pleaded with the UN to ban killer robots. MORE>>>
10. YO-YO MA - SIX EVOLUTIONS, BACH: CELLO SUITES
Captured! By Robots are among a whole bunch of musicians who are becoming politicised under the worldwide rise of the far right. One of the more unusual is cellist Yo-Yo Ma, whose new album aims to "heal the world with Bach", since the composer is a "great teacher of empathy". After each concert on his world tour, Ma will conduct a day of "#CultureInAction", inviting people in the area to showcase their cultures through food, music, art and science. "The ties that bind us politically, economically, and socially are fraying," he said. A fellow cellist who has also turned to politics on her new album is Jackie Perez Gratz, with her prog metal trio, Grayceon. "There was just too much going on in the world and in my mind for it not to come out in my music," she said. Meanwhile, Tim Booth of veteran Britpoppers James said he doesn't normally listen to political music, but had also become politicised on the band's aptly-titled new album, Living in Extraordinary Times. MORE>>>
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mat Ward has been writing for Green Left Weekly since 2009 and authored the book Real Talk: Aboriginal Rappers Talk About Their Music And Country. He also makes political music and released a new album about Elon Musk last month. Follow him on Spotify here.
Read about more political albums here.
Stream Green Left TV's political music playlist here.
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