Elvis once famously sang, “Don’t Be Cruel.” So I’ll do my best.
Morning Glory will be releasing its new record, War Psalms, early next month. I think it’s possible that one can write anthemic war or anti-war songs about any sort of conflict, from world disorder to religious upheaval and dissent, to personal protests of culture and uniformity. Some of them are even quite good. Like U2”s War, or The Artists United Against Apartheid’s Sun City. Or all those 60’s protest songs from Dylan to Seeger to Baez.
But frankly, I don’t know where to put War Psalms, except down.
The good news is that for 37 minutes there is much energy, some tolerable guitar riffs. And as you wind your way through the thirteen songs, things actually improve, from the blitzkrieg of “Punx Not Dead, I Am,” to the pianos of “Karry On” and “Home Free.” I think “Punx” is the most complex song on the record, or maybe it’s just that I find it musically varied and might even thrill to it were I to hear the band live which is where I suspect they’re at their best. Rawness and energy and top-decibel sounds work best when you’re out, ready for some kind of action.
“Karry On” even has a sympathetic message: “There’ll be more Muslims, Judeo-Christians. There’ll be more fighting, and more religions./We karry on our dissenting song./There’ll be more schisms, houses divided…there is so much I have not said, I am not dead, I am not dead.” That’s sort of hopeful, that is if you hope that lead singer/writer Ezra Kire will continue to inspire us with his message. Not to say I wish him harm at all. I don’t. But I’m thinking that his message is old and offers little in the way of changing anything. But maybe he’ll turn someone new on. Someone who has missed the mark and the message.
So, with the good news out of the way, let’s turn to the bad. In the press kit accompanying the record, Kire is quoted as saying, “We’re a political band, but not in an overt or preachy way— we’re not going to tell you how to think or feel or vote. I’d say it’s more social commentary than anything.”
So politically speaking we face these early tracks: “I Am A Machine Gun,” which actually opens with staccato guitar mimicking, you guessed it, a machine gun; and “I Want Control,” which suggests…”I’ll drive…I want control.” This goes on for a few minutes as we presumably ride with the voice as it assumes control. I wish I could tell you where we’re going, but maybe we’re all better off not knowing. Kire says he was up all night writing these songs, “taking brief naps under the piano.” I don’t doubt him.
Finally, the song the band seems proudest of is “War Dance.” Kire says, “The spoken word piece in the main body of this song was one of the most important parts of the record as I was more or less summing up our message in one broad stroke.” It might just be me, or the nature of political reality in this age of sound bites and the desire to toss rude barbs in your rival’s living space. But summing up messages and world-views, especially concerning war and peace, in “one broad stroke” is just too easy. For someone who doesn’t want to tell you how to feel or vote, Kire seems a bit too one size fits all for me. Frankly, I don’t care for being “broad-stroked.”
Even worse, I know that some works are spontaneous and take minimal amounts of time. Sometimes, everything does fall into place. About “War Chant’s origin, Kire states: “The speaker [of the chant] had to be someone with both a musical and political background. I ran into Pete at the coffee shop one morning on the way to the studio so I grabbed him, dragged him back to my apartment, wrote the words on the spot, and tracked it in a few takes on a laptop. The whole thing took a matter of minutes…It was serendipitous.”
Maybe it was for them. But serendipity and politics don’t always, or usually, make good music. Kire says the real message of “War Dance” is the “inter-connectedness of all humankind.” Nothing bad in that either, but in the end, what happens if you just can’t connect to all that inter-connectedness. What if you’ve heard it all before? What if your ears simply beg you to stop, like mine did? For the reality is that I just can’t or won’t give your political message much time if you’re yelling at me. If you’re machine-gunning me. If you demand too much control, even if you think you’re doing just the opposite.
(Editors note – Morning Glory’s new record, War Psalms, will be available from Fat Wreck Chords on March 4)