Hate the War? Hate Bush? Hate all the killing in the name of oil, greed, and corporate interests? If so, that means you're in the same boat with a bunch of musicians who, as of recently, have gone nuts posting their very own protest songs online. While some are better than others, the real question to ask is where the hell were these artists before the war? Oh well, I guess it takes a lot of dead Iraqis to get in a good songwriting mood.
Zack de la Rocha & DJ Shadow "March of Death"
Shockingly, this is hands-down the best of the bunch. While his ex-bandmates are soiling their legacy with the grunge parade that is Audioslave, former Rage Against the Machine frontman Zack de la Rocha releases his first solo track in this fiercely biting anti-war song. It doesn't hurt that DJ Shadow's beats/samples are all over "March of Death," making the finished product a violent collision of noise and rhyme, similar to the heyday of Public Enemy, and the surprisingly slick flow of de la Rocha's lyrics. (Bonus points for calling Bush a "Texas furor.") I don't know what happened between the breakup of RATM and the start of war, but de la Rocha discovered flow, and now he doesn't seem all that bad. But I still blame him for inventing nü-metal, that bastard.
REM "The Final Straw"
Alarmingly polite, with an opening line of "As I raise my head to broadcast my objection," REM takes the high road of protest songs. If Zach de la Rocha wants to see Bush's head on a platter, REM would rather just impeach his ass and get our troops back home. Fair enough. "Final Straw" leans a bit too heavy on the safe side--considering this is a song about war, the least they can do is not be so restrained--but it still falls in nicely with their criminally underrated recent material, including last year's Reveal. In the end, however, it's still not as powerful of "Flowers of Guatemala," REM's finest hour (at least when it comes to protest songs).
John Mellencamp "To Washington"
First he drops the "Cougar" from his name (which was the only cool thing he had going for himself), cuts off that poofy mullet, then he records an anti-Bush song. What's going on here? Listening to the song, my only reaction is "Oh dear god, make it stop." "To Washington" is so terrible that it makes me want to get violent. I don't why. It just makes me so angry, that bombing Baghdad doesn't seem like such a bad idea right now, as long as doing so will make this dreadful song end. http://www.mellencamp.com
Mike Park "No War"
What would a collection of protest songs be without the contribution of a ska singer? Famous, or infamous, for being the goofy lead singer of Skankin' Pickle (and the owner of the finest Asian-run ska label that I can think of, Asian Man Records), Park's contribution is charming to say the least. Basically, it's a cute pop song recorded on a four-track--if you were to switch around a couple words it could just as easily be about a girl, rather than the start of a military campaign that will lead to the Arab world hating us just a little bit more than they already do.
Beastie Boys "In A World Gone Mad"
Why is this track the weakest of the pack? Maybe because the Beasties, who at least seem well versed in politics, turn the concept of WWIII into a frat jam? Or maybe because it sounds light years away from the fabled Paul's Boutique days? Either way, "In A World Gone Mad" gives the John Mellencamp song a run for its money as most craptastic protest song.
Pinhead Gunpowder "Life During Wartime"
Take an incredible song written for this war's prequel (the original Gulf War, way back in the early '90s), record it acoustically, and somehow it becomes new again. "Life During Wartime" is one of punk's premiere protest songs, not just addressing war, but also touching on the dreaded apathy of being socially active. With clever lyrics written by the Punk Rock Kerouac, Aaron Cometbus, and sung in that ever-so familiar faux-Brit voice of Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, "Life During Wartime" sounds as good now as it did then.
There are also new protest songs from Lenny Kravitz and Robbie Williams, but they are irrelevant and not worth mentioning, based on both song and the respective histories of both performers. For more (good) protest tunes, check out Protest Records (
www.protest-records.com), the new online record label started by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, which features free downloadable songs from Sharon Cheslow, The Evens (Amy Farina and Ian MacKaye), and more.
Read next week's Mercury for Operation Download, Part 2: The Pro-War Song Roundup.