Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Duff Review: 1592 This One's For You All


One of Detroit's most enduring nicknames--the Motor City--underscores how synonymous this city was with great feats of industrial manufacturing, unprecedented economic success, and the American dream; it's permanently linked to the nation's obsession with big, fast cars. Detroit made 'em and we bought 'em. Good jobs with decent union wages and benefits provided by Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler (AKA the Big Three) once allowed hundreds of thousands of poor and working class Americans to become middle class and realize the promise of the American dream (in the 1950s, Detroit had the highest median income and the highest rates of home ownership in the US). But the Big Three's industry dominance was its downfall--the companies that were once innovative became lazy and complacent (leaving expensive but forward-thinking investment in new technological developments to the Europeans and Japanese) and the oil crisis of the late 70s drove it all home. Japanese auto companies in particular were able to capitalize on the new reality, with their inexpensive, highly fuel-efficient, and extremely well-designed and reliable cars (everything the US-made cars were not). Faced with fierce competition (and unable to design and build cars that could compete) and following the trend of other manufacturing industries that placed profits over the people in the communities that had contributed to their success, the Big Three shuttered factories, laid off tens of thousands of people, and exported their jobs overseas (where they could pay rock bottom wages and not worry about providing benefits). This wholesale and permanent elimination of jobs (and Ronald Reagan's anti-urban policies didn't help) caused Detroit's middle class to move elsewhere in search of jobs; the rich to flee for exclusive enclaves in the suburbs; and all this white flight left the permanent underclass (Detroit proper is now a largely African American city with nearly a third of its population living under the poverty line) to eke out an existence in the decaying ruins of a once magnificent city.

From the context of this dying metropolis comes 1592, which has forged a new sub-genre of this familiar Jamaican sound: Detroit Rocksteady--a mash-up of funky Motown, old school garage-rock, and early reggae. Dark, dread-filled, bitter, defiant, yet ultimately hopeful--it's music to help keep your chin up in an ever meaner and bleaker America--where our great diversity is used to divide us, and concern for the common good and empathy for anyone else (forget about the poor and downtrodden, they're not even on the radar!) seems to be in very short supply.

It should hardly be a surprise that This One's for You All is steeped in history--how else can you know where you're going unless you know where you've been? And how can you avoid repeating the same mistakes if you're unaware of the past? The great heavy title track hoists a pint in tribute to many of extraordinary Jamaican musicians who created/defined the ska and reggae that 1592 play so well ("For Alton, Coxsone, Tubby/Perry and the Dragonnaires/Skatalites, Soul Brothers/backing everywhere"). The angry funkified rock-reggae of "Old Crew" bemoans how the values of previous generations that served us all so well seem to have been lost or abandoned over time: "They fought in all the wars/They built all the cars/and left behind a way/for us to live with pride...Whatever happened to the old crew/the ones our father looked up to?/Whatever happened to the old crew?/I sure don't see it in you."

"Detroit Why"--with its Prince-like guitar lines that seemingly squeal in pain--recognizes all the wasted potential, missed opportunities, broken promises, and dashed hopes contained within the city limits, but posits that the people and place are worth saving ("Why must you break so many hearts/and tear us apart/Detroit why?/Let's stand up to fight/and walk into the light"). Amidst all the rubble and despair also come several wonderful love songs, the almost shockingly bright, sing-along-with-the-chorus "Tomorrow is Another Day," which wants to capture the "everything's perfect" feeling people have when they first fall in love, and the sweet salvation found when love makes all our burdens a bit lighter in "Midnight."

Several other key cuts on This One's for You All are concerned with protecting others from pain and suffering (the Skinnerbox-like "Stepping on a Stone"); the importance of persevering, even if you're confused and your destination's unknown ("That's It"); and a declaration that the status quo just isn't working for us anymore ("It's Time," which has a great heavy metal-like riff, and lyrics like: "The way we construct the notion of self/keeps pushing the boundaries/and destroying all the wealth"--this is not about a loss of material riches, but probably each person's creative potential and ability to make the world a better place for all of us).

The album closes with the slinky and rhythmic "What's Left for Me," which accepts the responsibility that comes with knowing that we are both the cause and solution to our problems: "The more we keep this up/The more we lag behind/The more we keep this up/The more we have to fight/It keeps impressing me/that all hope is not lost/as we try to deal with the path/of the few, that no one takes."

1592's This One's for You All is a complex album full of deep grooves and deeper thoughts for our difficult and sometimes desperate times. But it also offers hope and inspiration--wrapped in stellar songs--to anyone willing to listen.

The Duff Guide to Ska Grade: A

+ + + +

Here is a live video of 1592 performing "Tomorrow is Another Day" and "That's It":

1592 plays "This One's For You All" here:


Anonymous said...

Again, you're a great bloggist. and you will can do make me broke, whatever you steer to!

I'm thankful for this blog 2010

Steve from Moon said...

Thanks, Anonymous! I really appreciate your feedback and support--it keeps me going.

I'm sorry to say that there many more releases that I'm going to reviewing soon that you're probably going to put on your want list...

There is a lot of great ska out there right now!