Political Pop Music
On Nov. 5, ”Rock the Vote” will be more than a cry for voter participation. If you drop by a record store on your way home from the polls, you’ll be faced with an equally crucial Election Day decision: Which new release by which chart heavyweight should you buy? For those whose musical tastes run along party lines, we offer the following nonpartisan breakdown:
The Democratic Party
Once known as the party of counterculture progressives, the Democrats are now the middle-ground establishment (see: Bill Clinton). Once known as counterculture fops, the Beatles are now the rock establishment — the pre-alternative standard-bearers of pop songwriting and production. A vote for Anthology 3 brings two more discs of Fab outtakes, this time from the two troubled years before their bitter dissolution.
Anthology 2 chronicled the Beatles’ evolution as studio auteurs. By comparison, Anthology 3 is primarily a collection of songs in unvarnished states. The White Album demos on disc one are lovely and intimate; the effect is of the Beatles gathered in your living room, strumming unplugged versions of their new songs, complete with muffed chords and lyrics. (On ”Cry Baby Cry,” John Lennon sounds more than ever like the godfather of Oasis.) Disc two is weaker: Let It Be was already rough, so these loose leftovers only add sloppiness. Beatlemaniacs will relish songs never released in any form by the band — like Harrison’s ”Not Guilty,” a defense of hippie values that features a screechy guitar solo. What’s missing is any sense of the tense infighting during the sessions, and the alternate ”Get Back” here isn’t the one with Paul McCartney’s Pakistani-bashing lyrics. Then again, whitewashing is a part of politics, isn’t it? B
The Republican Party
Country music isn’t the GOP of pop simply because of its links to the Bible Belt and Christian values; conservatism rears its head in the music itself. Many of the genre’s big names hire the same writers, producers, and studio musicians on album after album, resulting in a stultifying homogeneity. (No wonder the pop audience’s interest in country has waned.) On What If It’s You, Reba McEntire incites a small but worthy revolution against this work ethic: She uses her road band, rather than by-the-hour session men. The effect is instantly apparent. Instead of the hotel-lounge pop of McEntire’s recent efforts, these songs are propelled by ringing rock guitars and harder beats. In essence, she’s made her first Mary Chapin Carpenter record.
If only the tunes were as focused. Half of What If It’s You offers tales of strong-willed women who take their destinies into their own hands. ”State of Grace,” about a Wal-Mart employee who quits and drives off to nowhere, is Thelma & Louise without the ammo. Yet just as many of McEntire’s characters stand by their men to pathetic degrees. In ”Close to Crazy,” the protagonist returns to the bistro table she and her ex once frequented and engages in imaginary conversations with him. Too bad she didn’t have a sharp career woman — like, say, McEntire — as her role model. B