Sunday, January 10, 2010

Duff Review: Resolution 242 - Resolution 242

Do the Dog Music

Compared to the UK ska bands on some of the scorchingly political Do the Dog CDs that have been finding their way into my mailbox lately, a lot of American ska acts come off as shallow, 24-hour party people oblivious to the suffering and injustice around them--happy to make the obligatory shout out for "unity" here and there, but not really advocating or agitating for social and/or political change. (Obviously, I'm using a very broad brush here to make my point; there are definitely lots of exceptions to this gross generalization, and there is nothing wrong with simply making music for people to dance and enjoy themselves.)

While I certainly don't believe that all ska musicians should be forced to take on the anti-racist/social justice mantle that The Specials and 2 Tone espoused, it seems that not enough US ska bands have continued with this long and proud tradition (dig through the deep catalogue of songs by Jamaican musicians from the ska, rocksteady, and roots reggae eras and you'll be reminded how they were very outspoken about decrying injustice--chant down Babylon, indeed).

For Pete's sake, here in the US we're still engaged in two almost decade-long wars (one launched on fear, lies, and propaganda); the torture of prisoners and the suspension of habeus corpus have become widely accepted governmental practices (despite their complete illegality); our country is experiencing massive unemployment and the shredding of the social safety net (nearly six million Americans, including two million children, have no income other than food stamps!); our society suffers from extreme economic inequality (but the masses won't revolt against the rich because their lifestyle is the American dream that just might be possible if you shut up and work hard enough and make all the right investments in real estate or stocks--yeah right; that worked out real well, didn't it--or score your own freakish reality TV show); corporations (which may soon have the same rights as individuals) and their lobbyists oftentimes write our nation's legislation (see the giveaways to the health insurers and pharmaceuticals in the current "health reform" bill--which really should be about providing universal health insurance for all Americans, not lining the pockets of CEOs). Should I go on? There's no shortage of topics to raise the alarm about here as we endure the ugly, messy decline of the American Empire. Things are bad all over.

Resolution 242--named after the U.N. Resolution created after the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six Day War that essentially calls for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza, and for the Arab nations surrounding Israel to recognize her sovereignty/right to exist and live in peace--have recorded a short album jammed full of urgently compelling ska, reggae, and acoustic punk rock (kind of like when The Clash did Dylan on "Groovy Times"). Lyrically, Resolution 242, demand that the listener not only recognize the injustice that so many of our fellow human beings endure due to their race, religion, class, or nationality, but fiercely insist that you do something to counter these wrongs.

The lead track, "Bullets in the Ground," opens with a quote from the Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti (who essentially thought that positive societal change was only possible through a "revolution" in each person's psyche, not through external organized social or political movements): "We were saying how very important it is to bring about in the human mind a radical revolution." Essentially, this is Resolution 242's call to action, their manifesto--individuals need to "Rise up! Rise up! Take your head from your hands/The streets will be a better place when we start making demands." Resolution 242 doesn't necessarily claim to have the answers--but they want you to use your own power and abilities and ideas to effect change in any way you can.

On "IMF," Resolution 242 call for the dismantling (well, actually torching--"If only concrete burnt like straw") of the institutions and policies of our current economic system that fuel and reap profits from wars; encourage greed and the exploitation of others; and permit widespread poverty. "British Nasty Politics" rails against the xenophobic, racist, anti-immigrant British National Party ("We're in the presence of people who want to divide/they're wrapping flags around their eyes to cover apartheid/With truth and trouble lying hand in hand/There's never been a better time to make a stand"). "Gaza Dub" calls for the Israelis to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza. "Pigs" slams corporate and media self-interest and avarice, while they distract us from the real issues with bread and circuses. "The Solution?" despairs over the maddening senselessness of armed conflict as a means of resolving anything ("Send in the jackals, then send in the troops/This is economic warfare, gotta poison the roots/I'll kick up the dust in this empire's ash/In the streets of the city they couldn't smash!/'Cuz I'm so sick of watching other people die/Makes me wanna drift off in the devil's lullaby...")

Perhaps the most stunning and desperately heartbreaking song on this album is "Poet's Town" (which might refer to John G. Neihardt's poem of the same name, which is about how small, rural communities dismiss, shun, and smother creative individuals): "Man, I sold it to myself/This town's got rot in its foundations/So, I'll beat the shackles that hold me down/and I'll raise my fist at every frown/For every deadbeat there's a gravestone!/We're all going down in this fuckin' poet's town/'Cuz no one out there told me about us!"

You might be led to think that this album is a major downer--Resolution 242's view of the world can be kind of bleak--but they channel all of their anger and frustration into some extraordinary songs full of life, hope, and stubborn defiance with great sing-along choruses that give you something to think about, if not act upon...

The Duff Guide to Ska Grade: A


David T said...

I see where you are coming from Steve, but generally IMHO you just have to slow down and enjoy the good things in your life.

Sure, I could be one of the people who have no income other than food stamps, but I'd like to think the fact I've worked very hard has contributed to whatever level of success I've achieved.

Rich? Absolutely not. Content? Absolutely.

The simple fact for me is that I don't want to listen to depressing music.

Steve from Moon said...


Thanks for your comments. I personally don't think R242's music is depressing--it is all the crap that goes down in the world that really bums me out. They just point out the injustices that they think need correcting...

But I certainly understand your points. Nothing wrong with enjoying life and music that's a bit lighter in tone and content...