Taken from antiMusic (Oct 10, 2008)
Michael Franti and Spearhead - All Rebel Rockers
by Anthony Kuzminski
Michael Franti and Spearhead have always existed right outside the mainstream, which is a shame because Franti is the modern Bob Marley-a tag I don't throw around lightly. Over the last decade, Franti and his band Spearhead have continued to evolve and distinguish themselves by creating weighty music that matters in a forlornly world that embodies darkness at every corner. Beneath monolithic dance grooves and phoenix-like melodies are lyrics that excavate into the consciousness of the world. Franti and Spearhead picks up where Marley's legacy left off, modernizes it and embodies the spirit and soul of the music which is never more evident than on their latest album, All Rebel Rockers. Mining territory between Public Enemy and Bob Marley, Franti and Spearhead's music is out of frame; it isn't pop, reggae, hip-hop or rock but a meticulously melded collage of all of the aforementioned. They are a ferocious multi-musical hybrid who is unlike anything else on the current musical landscape. No topic goes unturned in their poignant lyrics; the world's addiction to oil, the corrupt music business, the environment, war and even the mundane drudgery that encompasses our lives. Franti wrestles with life's obstacles but ultimately finds a way to not only challenge your mind but move your body as well, a rare feat. The album's duality is a delicacy- socially charged lyrics paired with rupturing backbeats that wrap around your brain but captivates you like provocative pop.
The lead-off track, "Rude Boys Back In Town" features a pulsing reggae thump and a euphoric feeling of having spent a tranquil day in the sun. "A Little Bit of Riddim" and "Life In The City" have grooves so intoxicating they spin the dark side of life on its head. There's vulnerability in the lyrics, but the sunny side of life wins out and is ultimately a celebration of life. "I Got Love For You" and its svelte production, by the legendary Sly and Robbie, accentuate the song with their own styling's yet enhance Franti's aesthetic in something that is more than an accidental collision. "The Future" has a Jamaican harmony featuring rippling cataclysmic six-string fireworks. The whimsical nature of the pensive "All I Want Is You" stands side by side with "Say Hey" (I Love You) with its high-spirited getaway chorus that is guaranteed to make you smile and just be ecstatic to be alive while the lyric "The more I see the less I know" strikes a nerving chord; consider this Franti's "All You Need Is Love".
All Rebel Rockers, recorded in Jamaica, is a paean that connects your heart and mind in ways most modern music tries to but often fails. Franti's charm is personified through his biting lyrics and enthralling beats. The political stories are history lessons in themselves while being apolitical, a rare feat. Franti relies on sonic muscle and a more condensed style of lyrics to get his points across. "Hey World (Remote Control Version)" is a masterful composition as it wants you to not back down from the overwhelming barriers of life ("You've got to put up a fight"). The music reaches beyond the spiritual- it's momentous, empowering and inspiring. This one in particular has a beat to rock out to and should prove to be devastating in concert with its thrashing beats and invigorating music that makes you want to take action, specifically when you hear the lyrics "Smash the empire with my boom box". The other "Hey World (Don't Give Up Version)" is a dreamy ballad with primeval lyrics delivered with unabashed passion, Franti's voice practically cracks. He's not just a great poetic, but he can sell it. Like a great preacher on a pulpit, he embodies the message.
The world has proven to be full of seismic horrors many of us never knew possible, and while All Rebel Rockers is a politically potent record, each composition has a staggering silver lining. Franti is never one to preach; he's merely a storyteller who lines his music with eternal optimism. He easily finds middle ground on the astonishing "Nobody Right Nobody Wrong"; an acoustic ballad that breaks the human condition down to its more uncontaminated element. The things we obsess and think about in life; street crime, gas prices, losing your job, your family are delivered with such delicate intricacy you can't help but listen and feel that Franti and Spearhead understand our woes more profoundly than any politician ever could. Isn't that what music is about? At times everywhere you turn, you feel no one understands you…Franti does just like an ever reliable friend.
The album closer, "Have A Little Faith", is something I've heard dozens of artists try to emulate on records in a post 9/11 world, but few can sell it because I'm not sure if they can grasp or empathize with the vivid emotions running through our minds and bodies in a frantic and paranoiac bustle many of us call a life. As Franti utters "I wish I was there to run through your worries", you don't hear it, but you feel as if he's standing next to you to cradle that fear and abandonment. Sometimes all one has in life to plow through it is faith. All Rebel Rockers is the soundtrack to accompany you on your leap of faith; a collection of essential hymn's disguised as swiveling anthems for the ages whose lyrics strike a profound chord in here and now.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network and his daily writings can be read at The Screen Door and can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com.