May 05

It Relieves Their Conscience

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MANIC STREET PREACHERS – “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next”
“Newspaper cuttings of his glory days” Like it or not the most consistently popular political band during the 90s were the Manics, probably because they dovetailed personal crisis and external anger so much. Their earlier albums were fiery and often specific – in their latter days they settled into the mournful mode shown here. If you tolerate – what, exactly? Near as I can tell it’s the shabby treatment of Spanish civil war vets, but honestly what the MSPs are selling here and ever since is the sense of ‘the political’ to a guilty or nostalgic public, not anything specific.

THE DIVINE COMEDY – “Generation Sex”
“A mourning nation weeps and wails” Prissy and more than slightly gynophobic, this is still a rare attempt at a ‘state-of-the-nation’ political song at the dawn of the Blair years. And something in its brittle bustle does remind me of the late 90s boom. Nice string arrangements, if you like that kind of thing. The voice inserts are diabolical.

ASIAN DUB FOUNDATION – “Real Great Britain”
“Call Britannia cool – who are you trying to fool?” The distilled inheritance of ‘collision pop’, with all of that strain’s implied virtues (mongrel marriages of reggae, bhangra, drum’n’bass and spaghetti western musics) and glaring flaws (abominable rapping). Lovable if only for calling Britain a “shoegazer nation”.

PET SHOP BOYS – “I Get Along”
“I’ve been trying not to cry when I’m in the public eye” As things got managerial in New Labour’s first term the real action seemed to be more soap-operatic, particularly the swelteringly personal triangle of Blair, Brown and Peter Mandelson. “I Get Along” is a New Labour break-up song about the fall of Mandelson (well, it seemed pretty important at the time), with perspective switching between Tony and Peter, both in full drama queen mode. The insider reports published so far suggest it’s quite accurate.

SKITZ ft TASKFORCE – “The Junkyard”
“New deal, low pay, big ball and chain” UK hip-hop portrait of a North London council estate, treading lyrical ground that shouldn’t be as familiar as it is.

MS DYNAMITE – “It Takes More”
“Who gives a damn about the ice on your hand?” Media favourite breaks through – I suspect this is the highest-charting British ‘issue song’ of the century so far, amongst little competition. If so it deserves to be – it has clarity, wit, directness, gorgeous music and demands an answer.

GEORGE MICHAEL – “Shoot The Dog”
“Tony tony tony, I know that you’re horny, but something bout that Bush aint right” A very strange record. Sampling heavily from the Human League’s “Love Action” (which gives the track an unearned shimmer) George talks bedroom geopolitics, making the reasonable point that a neo-con US doesn’t actually give half a shit about Britain. He sings half in mumble, half in falsetto, which obscures the message even more than the smut does.

THE RUB – “George Bush Is An Islamic Fundamentalist”
“Here’s a bit of conspiracy theory for you.” Bad end-of-night pub joke extended to five dreadful minutes. Judging by the ‘protest songs’ you find on the web and in your inbox The Rub are absolutely typical of the current state of explicitly political pop: pleasing tiny crowds on the festival circuit but with no traction beyond that.

COLDPLAY – “Politik”
“Open up your eyes” The dog that refuses to bark. Chris Martin is a fairly intelligent, obviously thoughtful man who makes sensitive pop for a monstrously vast global audience. Twenty years ago he would have been called Bono or Sting and he would have been singing songs about specific political issues, because that’s what sensitive intelligent pop stars did. Now he sings a song called “Politik” which is mildly, vaguely but convincingly pained and which ends “Give me love over this”.

I don’t think that political pop is always good. For one thing it’s not effective, or at least, not effective in terms of influencing mass political movements. It can be very effective as a one-to-one influence, or as a morale-booster, but set against this is the far higher chance of a poltically motivated song being clumsy and embarrassing. From a neutral point of view, though, I wish there was more of it: when it’s good, it’s good – and entertaining – in a very different way from more individualised pop. It breaks down the ‘serious’ and the ‘frivolous’ in a way most public art can’t.


  1. 1
    Gareth Parker on 30 Aug 2021 #

    Happy to admit a soft spot for the Gary Clail single. 7/10.

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