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The Kindest Music You Haven’t Heard

Neil Young keeps on rockin' in the free world. Neil Young keeps on rockin' in the free world.

Take a listen to the chart-topping music these days: Disney brats, Glee, American Idol has-beens, crossover-country twangers, and old school metalloids are the music products earning big money.

For those of us yearning for something more meaningful, there are a small number of classic albums from artists who view their music as more than ear candy, more than just a way to “get your money for nothing and your chicks for free.”

These people are social poets, activists and commentators whose lyrics focus on something deeper than trying to get laid, crying in their beer about losing the last person they were getting laid with, or any of that other narcissistic soap opera stuff that pervades the music biz today.

In contrast, you have Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, the Jonas Brothers and similar poseurs as fronts for the cashbox looney tunes of our times.

Most of the hydroponics growers I’ve met are into music that deals with more intelligent topics and has something other than a drum machine, an auto-tuned voice, and stolen backing chords.

So from time to time, look for Rosebud articles like this one about meaningful music that you may not yet have heard. Music played by real musicians- not machines- and lyrics aimed at adults like you, rather than at eighth graders. So let’s get started with…

Neil Young’s 2006 album “Living With War”

Neil Young, Rush, Bad Religion and Sarah McLachlan make music that doesn’t insult your intelligenceNeil Young, Rush, Bad Religion and Sarah McLachlan make music that doesn’t insult your intelligenceElder metal-folk-rocker Neil Young is no stranger to writing “political” songs.

After all, he wrote the 1970 song “Ohio” that incited youth to rise up against the Vietnam War, police and government officials after college anti-war protesters were gunned down by National Guard troops at Ohio’s Kent State University.

Living With War amped it up significantly. Showing that he meant to demolish George W. Bush’s presidency and end illegal US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan- rather than make a commercial buck- Young released his entire album as a free streaming Internet download before he ever offered it for sale.

Living With War was blacklisted by mainstream corporate media, radio and television due to its anti-war content.

Young said he wrote the Grammy-nominated album in a frenzy of anguish and outrage after seeing Americans sitting passively watching pro-war media propaganda while the USA waged two bloody wars of occupation.

One song calls specifically for Bush to be impeached for war crimes; others evoke the pain and suffering war causes for soldiers, their families and all the countries involved- especially the little countries that get invaded.

Music critics and aficionados rank Living With War as a major artistic comeback for Neil Young, and as one of the most moving, well-performed and well-sung albums of 2006. Bush is no longer president, but his wars and social decay remain, so Young’s songs are still relevant today.

Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, by Sarah McLachlan

If you listen to today’s most popular female singers you’re hearing voices heavily processed by electronics and studio tricks.

In many cases, fans, music critics and sound engineer audience members at the Grammys and concerts have raised legitimate questions about whether this generation of singers are lip syncing, and whether it’s ethical to sell what amounts to a computer-generated voice derived from a sampled human substrate.

That’s why it’s such a pleasure to listen to a female singer-songwriter who can actually sing well- Sarah McLachlan. And what better way to hear her than on her breakthrough 1993 album, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy.

The album is notable for its emotional power, McLachlan’s sonorous and haunting voice, her use of specialty guitars and pianos, and lyrics that bridge the gap between longing, obsession and love.

In fact, the album’s most successful single, Possession, is said to have been based on a stalker fan who tried to sue Sarah for using his love letters as inspiration for the song’s lyrics. The lawsuit never made it to court, and some reports say the “obsessed fan” later committed suicide.

All you have to do to see the quality difference between a mature-minded, sincere artist like McLachlan and today’s female singers is to listen to the words of Possession as McLachlan sings it, and the other songs on this momentous album:

Through this world I’ve stumbled
so many times betrayed,
trying to find an honest word,
to find the truth enslaved.
Oh you speak to me in riddles
and you speak to me in rhyme;
My body aches to breathe your breath,
you words keep me alive…
And I would be the one
to hold you down
kiss you so hard
I’ll take your breath away
and after I wipe away the tears…
just close your eyes, dear.

Bad Religion: Suffer

If you’re unfamiliar with the insider world of “punk music,” you may never have heard of Bad Religion, which is too bad.

Of particular note is the passionate cadre of fans who view the lyrics of Bad Religion’s 1988 album Suffer as a manifesto for how an intelligent, independent person should live in a corrupt world, this highly-regarded band offers more than just punk angst and frenzy.

The album’s short, lyric-packed songs are like on-your-chin jabs from a middleweight boxing champion, and are thematically linked. One partial look at the set list gives a pretty good indication of what the boys are on about:

You are The Government, 1000 More Fools, Land of Competition, Delirium of Disorder, Give You Nothing, and other titles are indicative of the album’s hard driving tour de force lyricism. And the throbbing music echoes the razor-edged lyrics to make Rage Against the Machine seem like a pop band by comparison.

For example, the lyrics for the album’s title track:

“Did you ever see the concrete stares of everyday?
The lunatic, the hypocrite are all lost in the fray
can’t you see their lives are just like yours?
An unturned stone, an undiscovered door leading to
the gift of hope renewed…
eternity for you.
The masses of humanity have always had to suffer
the businessman whose master plan
controls the world each day
is blind to indications of his species’ slow decay.”

Bad Religion is the authentic spirit of punk. The good news is Bad Religion still tours and makes new music 30 years after they burst onto the LA punk scene as radicalized teenagers!

Rush: Grace Under Pressure

Released in 1984, this hard-driving, epic album by Canada’s revered rock fusion trio resonates more and more each year as our planet hurtles towards apocalypse.

Some people have a hard time getting used to singer Geddy Lee’s soaring, high-pitched voice. And if they’re raised on the drum machine beats and monotone sounds of contemporary pop performers, their minds go bezonkers trying to follow the intricate timing, drum wizardry and nuanced tonal magic that make the three Rush men sound like ten top-rank musicians playing with total synchronicity.

But for those who have ears to skillfully hear, Grace Under Pressure addresses the serious themes we’re faced with: wars, spirituality, environmental destruction, the police state, adversity, and sheer survival.

The album’s musical feel and lyrics come across like short stories, opening with the ominous, prophetic warning that “an ill wind comes arising across the cities of the plain. There’s no swimming in the heavy water. No singing in the acid rain.”

“Are we the last ones left alive?”

Later, Rush provides the eerie feeling of being in a concentration camp:

“I hear the sound of gunfire at the prison gate. Are the liberators here? Should I hope or should I fear? For my father and my brothers it’s too late, but I must help my mother stand up straight.”

Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Jonas Brothers, Justin Bieber and the other kids have talent- at making money off of bland musical tripe. It’s reassuring that Rush, Sarah McLachlan, Bad Religion and Neil Young are still keeping it real for those of us who want something better.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 26 October 2010 20:05

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