Thursday, September 2, 2004

Steve Earle

The Revolution Starts … Now

Artemis Records

In the world of politicized rockers such as Steve Earle, it’s believed that if the rest of us just woke up and smelled the tyranny, there’d be an avalanche of resistance against the Bush administration.

That was the idea behind parts of Radiohead’s “Hail to the Thief” album last year — “You have not been paying attention,” yelped singer Thom Yorke in the song “2+2=5.”

And that’s the impetus behind Mr. Earle’s new album, “The Revolution Starts…Now.” He and his band of Nashville renegades, the Dukes, cranked it out in spring as news of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal was breaking.

In case you’re worried about Molotov cocktails or street stormers, he doesn’t mean a call to arms; it’s a woolly, nonviolent kind of radical activism that Mr. Earle is trying to stir up.

“Whatcha doin’ standin’ around?” he chants on the stampeding title track, which opens and closes the album. “Just follow your heart/The revolution starts now.” (In Mr. Earle’s Texas twang, it’s “the railvolution starts neow.”)

Depending on your politics, it’s remarkably easy to tune out this kind of thing. It’s more naive than angry. To say, as Mr. Earle does, that the bawdy comedian Lenny Bruce “died so we could all be free” is wrong on so many levels that it’s beyond arguing. Not to mention a slur on heroin.

Mr. Earle is full of canned wisdom, too. In a liner-note introduction, he says, “Democracy is hard work.” It “requires constant vigilance.” Didn’t I read that somewhere? In a textbook, possibly, or an Aaron Sorkin screenplay?

Well, anyway, as one of the sleepwalkers of our fragile, eggshell democracy, I’m happy to report that I still dig “Revolution.” I didn’t mind joining it for the half-hour or so it takes to get through this tight little package of cowpunk, garage rockabilly and in-between acoustic songs such as “The Gringo’s Tale,” which Mr. Earle sings grittily and prettily.

“Revolution” is a sort of thematic companion to 2002’s “Jerusalem.” It’s the same grab bag of union politics and pacifism, with a shot of First Amendment absolutism thrown in to keep it real time. (The fist-shaker “F the CC,” as in flip the bird at the Federal Communications Commission, wouldn’t have made sense two years ago, before Janet Jackson had her bra troubles.)

Emmylou Harris is heard again, too, on the apolitical ballad “Comin’ Around,” and her soprano sounds as sweet as ever.

“Revolution” might prove agreeable to all sides for the same reason Bruce Springsteen has a lot of Republican fans: Rather than rage against the machine, Mr. Earle tells stories about relatable workaday characters, such as the guy in “Home to Houston,” who drives a fuel truck in Iraq and bargains with God for safe return to Texas.

And before you start to gag on the nearly trite “Rich Man’s War,” a tale about Jimmy and Bobby — good ol’ boys fighting in Iraq as financial predicaments grow bleaker at home — Mr. Earle sneaks in a final verse about a Palestinian who’s driven by a “fat man in a new Mercedes” to do the dirty work of suicide bombing.

The terrorist Ali, too, is fighting a rich man’s war, in Mr. Earle’s view. (It never bugged me, by the way, that Mr. Earle tried to measure the motives of John Walker Lindh, the privileged suburban Californian who joined the Taliban, on “Jerusalem’s” notorious “John Walker’s Blues.”)

On “Warrior,” Mr. Earle employs a spoken-word adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” picturing war-with-a-capital-W swallowing up the “fairest flower of your progeny.”

The one song here that’s out of character — aesthetically and lyrically — is “Condi, Condi,” a tease of a redneck reggae number in which Mr. Earle woos the president’s pulchritudinous national security adviser. (“People say you’re cold, but I think you’re hot.”)

It’s slap-your-knee funny, but that’s about it. The song itself is a little plodding; it huffs and puffs when it should swing.

For the record, Mr. Earle has said “Condi, Condi” shouldn’t be taken sarcastically. Whatever the case, he’s far better when snarling about war and social injustice.

Crushes are always such a distraction, aren’t they?

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide