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Taken from shopping.com (January 08, 2004)

"even our worst enemies, Lord, they deserve music"

Michael Franti
by Stairway2Drew


Author's Rating

Pros: Surprisingly unpretentious, easy-to-swallow uplift.

Cons: Alienating considering Spearhead's previous body of work.

The Bottom Line: It's your new favorite album.

To compare Spearhead to someone like, say, The Roots, is to fall into an easily palatable (if off-base) comparison because of both bands' renowned social conscious and the fact that they're among hip-hop's precious few *bands*. In reality, Spearhead, who enjoyed the platitudes of an overjoyed music-crit community with this fall's Everyone Deserves Music, have strayed far enough from their usually-beaten path that they can no longer be safely called hip-hop, and have as such distinguished themselves from pretty much any other band around, all the while embracing an accessible and familiar sound warmer than the pointed beats and rhymes of albums like Home or Chocolate Supa Highway, but still socially relevant and wholly essential.

It's quite the chore, then, to really explain what Everyone Deserves Music sounds like--- a band that once melded mean rhymes with ferocious funk veering left into unapologetic and impossibly optimistic pop-rock territory sounds like a Liz Phair-sized step down, but it's really not. And describing their sound as pop-rock makes it sound like a Train album, and it's not. Spearhead were first a hip-hop band, and while there are precious few rhymes here (although frontman Michael Franti has adopted a different-sounding but surprisingly appealing r&b baritone), their sense of rhythm and appreciation for the funk still remains intact.

Everyone Deserves Music is unifying, then, not because of music, but because of theme. The unifying theme IS unity. No matter how deeply troubled Franti seems--- and he's pretty pissed about some things--- he touts peace, love, and unity as the antidote to society's ills. It's a lofty message, but it rings surprisingly true--- surprisingly not because there's anything wrong with unity, but because on paper some of Franti's lyrics seem rather idealistic, even trite. But, see, that's on paper, and what exists in the liner notes and what exists on wax are two different things, and when Franti delivers these lines, they sound absolutely palatable, even galvanizing. "You say you're sorry, say there is no other choice/ but God bless the people who cannot raise their voice" sounds like it could have been lifted out of a U2 song, and, thinking about it, maybe U2 is the best reference point for Spearhead. Bono's bleeding-heart idealism has jaded many a cynic out of giving The Joshua Tree its props, but when you actually *listen* to something like "Where the Streets Have No Name," not a note rings false. Franti's earnestness and devotion to promoting peace are infectious. He's like latter-day Marvin Gaye in that respect, too, and while Everyone Deserves Music isn't on the musical plane that What's Going On is, the earlier album *can* be used as a reference point, even though the Spearhead album works more as an optimistic counterpoint to much of the same thematic material. Sure, war in Iraq is a different subject than Marvin's inner-city blues, but it all comes down to societal dischord and what's going wrong with *people*, and in such a respect Everyone Deserves Music works almost as the flipside to one of the most inarguably great album's ever made.

It's not that the lines never get corny, mind you. "Don't be a horse race, be a marathon" sounds like the worst inspirational quote from a page-a-day calendar ever committed to page, but in the context of "Never Too Late"'s warm pop-reggae, it, along with other unlikely couplets like "don't fear the long road, 'cause on the long road you got a long time to sing a simple song", forms something very pretty, wholly appealing, and actually quite moving.

Of course the title track's simple mantra, "everyone deserves music, sweet music", is far from corny as a standalone line--- as part of the song, as crooned over a series of simple piano chords and, later, as belted out over triumphant electric guitars, it sounds like the universal truth so obvious that no one ever got around to saying it. "We Don't Stop" tap-dances euphorically on a rubbernecked, dextrous funk bassline, and again drives home the album's prevailing theme of healing and unity through music. Here Franti actually drops a few rhymes, but his versatility as a vocalist is his coat of many colors; elsewhere, he tries on a killer Dave Matthews impersonation ("What I Be") and a full-throated reggae rasp ("Pray For Grace")--- like his band, M. Franti's trump card is his startling ability to shift his style, or to adapt to the song's musical foundation. Meanwhile, Spearhead weave their way through twelve radically different tunes: soaring pop-rock with a classicist bent in "Love, Why Did You Go Away?", earnest, mid-tempo raga in "Bomb the World," feel-good gospel rock in "Yes I Will", vintage disco in "Love Invincible". The cornucopia of sound never rests for long in a particular genre, preferring to illustrate the title claim by making a little bit of music for everyone. It makes for an appealing affirmation of the album's title and arguably defining phrase, as well as a consistently engaging listen.

Whatever epiphany led Michael Franti to make happy music paid off. These songs resonate with an awe-inspiring grandeur and a plaintive, peace-loving spirit, as well as the band's considerable chops. It's one of very few albums that I've been able to safely recommend to everyone I know, and that holds a lot of water in today's fickle musical climate. Everyone deserves Everyone Deserves Music. Check it out. It's your new favorite album.

 
 

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