Sunday, September 07, 2003


I’m old enough to remember the major precursors of agit-rock, Red Wedge (dear old Billy Bragg and pals) and Rock Against Racism. Fine campaigns, though much of the music passed me by… Musicians Against Nuclear Arms (an essentially classical outfit) was more my cup of ginseng.

These days political commitment in music isn’t so fashionable, unless it’s Macca cosying up to the neocons by helping to legitimate the bombing of Afghanistan after the tragedy of 9/11. But that’s not protest. It’s establishment toadying that wouldn’t recognise genuine concern if it bit it on the bank balance.

Anyway, I was mightily cheered up yesterday AM to nip down to the newsagents for my weekend fix of The Guardian and then to find myself listening to a free CD called 'The Big Noise'. Its purpose – summed up on the last cut by Bishop Desmond Tutu grooving down with Ladysmith Black Mambazo – is to support Oxfam’s, part of the estimable Trade Justice Movement.

The focus is on Africa, of course. The concession to populism is that LBM are really only there to give us the message at the end of the gig, and The Sakala Brothers (‘Masulani Nichito Zamolonda’) and Mali Music (‘Niger’, featuring Damon Albarn and the fabulous Afel Bocoum) are the last two tracks. So Afrika plays second fiddle again, even when it’s the main point of the thing.

Even so, the rest is fine fayre – quite contradicting the idea that politics and music always mix at the expense of the latter.

First off we have Coldplay’s ‘Politik’, I presume from the latest ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’ CD (2002), but I haven’t checked, so correct away. If it wasn’t for the slightly melancholic indie-boy vocals and twist-of-lemon guitar, the orchestral and electronica backdrops and post-5 min time check would have this dissed as prog. But thankfully (I guess) it has enough of the right ingredients to keep the Style Police at bay.

Coldplay are overrated by people whose ears just don’t get out enough. But, hell, if an album’s got to sell millions of copies and influence a blip of a generation, far better this than friggin’ Pop Idol.

Then there’s a live REM track, ‘The Lifting’, taken from The Museum of Television and Radio from May 2001 by Pat Carthy. It gathers momentum, this one. A bit of a cross between their ‘Losing My Religion’ and ‘What’s The Frequency Kenneth?’ phases, I’d say. Though later, evidently. But I’m no expert.

Radiohead, meanwhile, offer us a (rare) demo of ‘Where I End And You Begin’ which would make most people’s finished product sound like it had just come off the Barbie ‘cos the rain’s begun.

My admiration for Thom Yorke and co has not discovered its boundaries yet, and if this is a flavour of post-Amnesiac RH (I haven’t heard the new album), I can’t agree that it’s a reductive thing, or an unhelpful sell-out to rawkism, as has been suggested in some quarters.

Inter-alia, the alluring Chemical Brothers offer us ‘Otter Rock’ from 1996. Not much to say here… but it’s an intriguing prelude to Lemon Jelly’s typically joyous and cinematic symph-space-pop. This one’s ‘Ramblin' Man’ from their deservedly acclaimed new album.

This is what Polyphonic Spree could sound like if they weren’t up themselves in a self-deceiving sort of way. An unfair and tendentious observation, I concede. But I haven’t had my morning coffee yet.

Anyway, if you had time, I hope you got down to the paper shop straight away. This CD was definitely worth it. Support Make Trade Fair… and apologies to Onion Jack, whose review will be here in a couple of days. Honest.

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