Taken from Relix (Aug 23, 2013)
Michael Franti & Spearhead: All People
by Bill Murphy
Boo Boo Wax/Capitol
Playing it safe has never been Michael Frantiâs style, even when he veers unexpectedly into polished, shiny-happy pop. All People, the eighth studio album by the San Francisco-based singer/songwriter with his longtime backing band Spearhead, still offers glimpses of the protect-the-underdog agenda that has inspired Franti since his first musings with The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy in the early â90s, but as a piece of pop song craft, this outing is a radical move on several levels.
For the first time, Franti sought to collaborate with a different crop of songwriters and producers. It meant setting aside the dub-tech, ragga-reggae sound heâd cultivated with Jamaican production team Sly & Robbieâa decade-long partnership that stretches back to 2003âs Everyone Deserves Music, and yielded the certified dancehall hit âSay Hey (I Love You)â in 2009.
With a production committee that features Australian producer Adrian Newman, American hitmaker Sam Hollander and Canadian pop powerhouse The Matrix, All People seems geared more for Christina Aguilera, Katy Perry or (name your pop star here). What keeps it grounded, for the most part, is Frantiâs unflappable sincerity.
âIâm Alive (Life Sounds Like),â with its whistled melody and relentless club beat, isnât quite all bubblegumââI canât afford the rent or remember checks I sent/To pay off all my taxes and feed the president,â Franti singsâ while â11:59â retains an apocalyptic menace (âIt was 11:59 and 59 clicks/ Life support plugged in/The whole world sickâ) beneath the mellifluous wash of The Matrixâs synthesized strings. Just when a song feels a bit too radio-friendly, Franti steps to the fore to keep things honest.
The tactic doesnât always work. âCloser To Youâ could have been a great love song if it werenât draped in schlock, complete with a clap track from a Euro-disco nightmare. But then, in the sensuous, catchy groove of âEarth from Outer Space,â with an outstanding verse by Kânaan, or the Trayvon Martin tribute âSay Goodbye,â the Franti we know emerges: the conscious, poignantly observant poet, telling it like it is.