Rock Against Bush, Vol. 1
I'm as skeptical as anybody when it comes to benefit/cause compilations. I mean, really, what're the chances that buying a CD to save the whales or free Tibet is going to actually do much of anything to help the root problem? Once you take out the store's cut and the label's cut (and in some cases, the cheap-ass artist's cut, too), then yeah, maybe the three bucks left over can rescue a tiny sliver of the vanishing rainforest in Belize, but still. In the grand scheme of thing, it's about as effective as slapping a bumper sticker on your car.
Note, mind you, that I'm not trying to promote apathy or suggest that anybody with a "Free Palestine/Tibet/the ELF" sticker on their car is obviously a poseur trying to tap into some kind of niche, but that if you want to actually do something, you should get off your ass and do it. Assuaging your guilt by buying a benefit CD to help save the poison-arrow frog from extinction doesn't cut it. We live in the Web-savvy age, after all, and info on concrete ways to help out is out there for almost any cause you can name.
Oddly enough, that seems to be the aim of Rock Against Bush, Vol. 1, as well. Fat Wreck Chords head honcho Fat Mike starts the liner notes with an impassioned plea for people all across the U.S. to get organized and vote George W. Bush out of office -- he doesn't want your money (the CD's relatively cheap, $9 from Fat Wreck and indies and a couple bucks more at big chain-stores), just your vote. And the point of his little spiel is that hey, this isn't like the imminent destruction of the habitat of the spangled cockatiel, which is probably going to happen no matter what you or I do, but something in which everybody over the age of 18 has a choice (younger folks can help out too, of course, but they don't get to push The Magic Button in November). The idea behind this CD is that it can be done, and in my book that automatically elevates it out of the realm of the "Free Tibet"-type stuff, since most of the folks buying those CDs, good intentions or no, don't have any clout with the Chinese government.
Unfortunately, politics aside, there's always the dreaded Curse of the Compilation Disc, that terrible malady that makes reviewers and music fans listen, shrug, and toss aside the vast majority of CDs like this. Well-intentioned or not, many comps don't survive, but this one does, by overcoming the Curse on four fronts: A). it's for a cause, which means that a large chunk of the folks who buy this could really care less who's on the CD, as long as they're giving the finger to The Man, and that the majority of the artists here actually want to be on here; B). 18 out of the 26 tracks on here are rare tracks or haven't been released elsewhere, which is a relief to people like me who tend to end up with 2-3 duplicated songs every time we buy a soundtrack or comp disc; C). again, it's cheap, cheap enough to just buy on impulse (like I did); and D). the music's genuinely pretty damn good, taken as a whole.
There are some truly memorable tracks on here, something that's rare even when listening even to comps I like to begin with, and most of the remainder of the songs fall generally in the "not bad" category. High points include the ever-incredible Alkaline Trio's anthemic, indie-rockin' "Warbrain," The Get Up Kids' pretty, bittersweet musing on the tragedy of war "Lion And The Lamb," The Soviettes' speeding, Veruca Salt-gone-punk "Paranoia! Cha-Cha-Cha," the reggaefied groove of RX Bandits' "Overcome (The Recapitulation)," Anti-Flag's strident protest-punk on "The School of Assassins," and the strange folk stylings of The World/Inferno Friendship Society's on their affirmation of American identity, "The Expatriate Act."
Hell, even bands I usually loathe fare well here -- Sum 41 somehow left all the poppiness back on the MTV set for "Moron," a nicely-crafted, angry bit of snotty punk aimed straight at Bush's misunderestimated noggin, and the Offspring contribute one of the few overt mentions of the current Bush-inspired mess in the Middle East with the vaguely Arabic-tinged and darn catchy "Baghdad" (think System Of A Down without the cool accent). Overall, there're only a few throwaways, like Ministry's to-the-point "No W," which is mostly lukewarm metal with horn samples and bad vocals (sorry, Al), and The Frisk's sophomorish pop-punk "Basket of Snakes. Two or three out of 26 ain't bad.
Great though a lot of the music is, however, the true gem of this comp is the "bonus" DVD that's included. I popped it in the other day and discovered that, despite my fears (I really should've read the liner notes), it's not a crappy bunch of live footage, thank God, but a whole slew of political-type stuff. They've got the Uncovered: The Whole Truth About The Iraq War documentary on there in its entirety (I'd seen it previously, and it's still chilling) and long trailers for the documentary Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election and another documentary that hits home for close to many Houstonians, No More Enrons. On top of that, there are five of the top entries in the MoveOn.org "Bush in 30 Seconds" contest, music videos for Anti-Flag ("Turncoat"), Bad Religion ("Sorrow"), Strike Anywhere ("Infrared"), and NOFX ("Franco-Un-American"), none of which I'd seen before (although I must admit that I gave up watching MTV and VH1 long ago), and an awesome, hilarious stand-up set by comedian David Cross. I bought the CD not having a clue that there was a DVD in the case, and for me, at least, it was the icing on the cake. I mean, the Uncovered documentary's priced around $15-20 on its own, I believe, so hey...
I think it's worth noting, by the way, that despite the fact that poppy-punk bastion Fat Wreck released this comp, this is not "Punk Against Bush." Retro-'80s rockers The Epoxies qualify as "punk" in only the loosest definition of the term, Ministry was riding the industrial money-train the last time I checked (although they're mostly just bland metal here), The World/Inferno Friendship Society are pretty close to unclassifiable, and The Get Up Kids are among the people most responsible for turning Emo Phillips' name into shorthand for a musical pseudo-genre. And I was surprised to see so few appearances by the usual "political" bands; Bad Religion only shows up in a music video on the DVD, Zach de la Rocha is nowhere to be found, and even those Seattle folks apparently didn't get the invite. Where the heck were Rancid and Fugazi? Sure, Anti-Flag, Strike Anywhere, and Rise Against are gimmes, as are political old-timers Jello Biafra & D.O.A. and Billy Bragg (although Bragg's "duet" with ska-pop-punkers Less Than Jake leaves something to be desired, even from somebody who likes both sides involved), but Strung Out? RX Bandits? The Get Up Kids? Who even knew those folks paid any attention to politics, much less got passionate enough to sign on for a CD of anti-Bush songs?
I have a feeling that some of the millions who think "Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)" is the greatest song in the universe for getting hammered and slam-dancing at frat parties are going to be in for a rude awakening if they pick up this CD just 'cause the Offspring are on it. But hey, maybe that's part of the point, as well -- Fat Mike himself says that when he showed the accompanying DVD to his Republican-voting father, dear old Dad was blown away and forced to question what he'd thought was really going on in this country. Who's to say some media-believing, Republican-leaning Offspring fan somewhere out there won't have a similar revelation? (JH)
(Fat Wreck Chords -- P.O. Box 193690, San Francisco, CA. 94119; http://www.fatwreck.com/; Punkvoter.com -- http://www.punkvoter.com/)