Friday, 31 August 2012

The 2kDozen 400: #298 - Public Enemy, "How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?"

Inspired by recent nostalgia TV over the bank holiday weekend and Public Enemy's current Paralympic-inspired mini-Renaissance, I've decided to give their last studio album proper a go. (Or at least the only one I can hear; "Most of my Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamps" cannot be found streaming anywhere. That'll have to wait.) The usual unwieldy title is still there: check. It's twenty tracks long, and that is hard to forgive of anyone.

"Black is Back" has the rock guitar involved, but it sounds pretty lumpen by Bomb Squad standards of the glorious years. Then there's the Channel 4 Paralympics theme and the only single off this album, I think - "Harder Than You Think". It features plenty of Flav and even by Chuck D standards it sounds like statement of who and where he is after twenty years - as it was in 2007 - in the business. And, of course, exactly what time it is. It's a tune that belongs in the PE canon, but it still lacks edge even though it has a brassy and affirmative power.

There's almost a Dre/Eminem feel to "Sex, Drugs and Violence", which is strange bearing in mind KRS-One is also booming his stentorian business at the same time. He and Chuck D are heavyweight and the beats are just cheap and silly. And there's kids singing on it. This is not the molten jazz-soul-rock guitar bomb blast of classic PE. "Amerikan Gangster" sounds like a budget version of Fifty Cent. It shouldn't matter if Chuck is still bossing the mic; but it makes me unhappy. A few tracks sample "Black Planet" or "Nation of Millions" as if to acknowledge this; there are definitely glances back.

"Head Wide Shut" touches on that old collage might here and there; but "Flavor Man" sounds pretty thin - just a reedy electric guitar and it's a wee bit pedestrian by Flav's schizophrenic standards too. "Col-leepin" is a weird update of "Cold Lampin'" with bits of Dizzee Rascal churning over some happy clappy disco thing. It's too sparse.

Having been following Chuck on Twitter for a while now, I can't believe he's any less paranoid now than he was back in the day. But the music isn't backing him up. He's in a more reflective mood, I think. "In a world gone wrong/Here's another love song" he sings on "Long and Whining Road", which is another reflection on Public Enemy's path in and out of popular consciousness, weaving most of their most famous track titles into the lyrics.He says they arrived in London in 1987 and then toured non-stop for three years - maybe that was there secret; what gave their music such momentum.

"Eve of Destruction" is the only tune on the album I can imagine the S1Ws spinning on their heels to. "The airwaves are poisonous with this gibberish" he spits on "How to Sell Out". "Why are the dead teaching the dead?"

On the whole, slower and no less wise; but it cannot touch the unmatched glory of 1988-1991.

Rating: Slow Reflections out of Twenty Year Stance

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