Wednesday, July 18, 2012

New Public Enemy (damn right, I reviewed it!!)

So, you may be asking yourself, is there anyone in the USA less qualified to review PUBLIC ENEMY's new album than a suburban white guy with three kids, drives a white Minivan with those stick figure decals of his family, and whose most recent posts included DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE and DEPECHE MODE? But I will counter with four specific anecdotes as credentials;

1) I have actually played pool with FLAVOR FLAV. At the release party for their Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age record at the Hollywood Athletic Club. He kicked me ass by the way.

2) I have interviewed Professor Griff for my defunct radio show in college. He was not what I expected and, to this day, his intelligence and thoughtfulness is still somewhat shocking.

3) Chuck D signed my copy of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back without questioning why a geeky kid like me even owned the record in first place.

4) I was present for their opening act stint for U2 in Arizona when they played two songs and walked off the stage. I think I was one of maybe twenty people in the audience who knew why they did it.

(shout out to my friend Scott who was present for all four of these events.)

So now that we have established my cred, here are my thoughts about Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamp, PE's first record in 5 years. From the opening salvo of "Run Till It's Dark" it is obvious that even 25 years into their career, Chuck D is still one of the fiercest Mc's on the planet. The vitriol and the anger are present just like they were all those years ago. The title track recycles a phrase from prior work and hints of some older beats to reclaim Public Enemy's mantle as the sound of old school hip hop. The first single, "I Shall Not Be Moved", takes a simple bass line and live drum beats to give D room to hit the lyrics hard. Yes, he's older, making references to working the senior circuit, but Chuck still has the right tone for his message. Musically, the group has expanded it's sound to include more live musicians since Terminator X, the architect of their original sound, is no longer with the group. There is a lot of funk references throughout, including the groovy "Get It In" and the horn driving "Fassfood". The album closer is the truly odd "WTF?" which takes a pretty straight forward guitar lick and rock structure and gives Chuck a new tone to work with. Here the rapper attacks the Tea Party and other government structures to address the still huge gap between the have and have nots.

The biggest difference between this album and other Public Enemy records is the noticeable absence of Flavor Flav. Relegated to a side man, Flav seems to be the odd man out of the record. Normally, he would get a song or two to lead the charge (most notable "911 Is a Joke"), but maybe his reality star career got in the way. "WTF?" is the closest to a showcase but even his verses seem lackluster. Flav, you used to be a sly comic, now your slipping. Work harder son, work harder.

There is a lot to like about this album is you like Public Enemy's previous work. Rumor has it this is the first of two albums to be released this year. If that's true then even after 25 years, Public Enemy is still going strong. And all of us are better off for it.

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