So many things that get me angry
Photo by Martin Fuchs
Reading the front-page headlines is starting to become more like the obituaries. Fifty-three dead in a Pakistan bombing, tens of thousands of Chinese children poisoned by tainted milk, American and global markets teetering on the brink, intermittent dispatches from largely forgotten wars. It's a pretty rough time, and the national mood is growing darker than ever. Yet as difficult as it'll be to pull through some of the crises we face, there's another task that's nearly as daunting: producing art that effectively speaks to the times.
Political music is fraught with pitfalls, resulting in songs that end up artless, didactic, simplistic or uninspiring. And for every successful attempt at smart protest we get--I'm thinking of Sleater-Kinney's "Combat Rock" or El-P's "Dear Sirs" for example--there've been dozens of really dumb ones (even after you discount Toby Keith and will.i.am entirely). It's also notable that, in a decade where political music should be having a huge impact on pop culture, the main reverberations have come from off-the-cuff comments by Kanye West and the Dixie Chicks. That's a pretty pathetic legacy.
Still, one bright spot among all that gloom has been The Bug's "Angry." It's the summer single that should've caught on big, dominating radio and clubs as a late-double-zeroes anthem. It gives our collective frustration a powerful voice--that of Brixton reggae veteran Tippa Irie--but even more impressively, it manages to sound almost... fun. "So many things that get me angry/and so many things that get me mad,/so many things that get me angry,/and I gotta say!" the chorus declares over a booming bassline. It doesn't just make you want to storm the streets, but also work off your aggression on the dancefloor.
Interestingly, the very same lyrics, "When I think about Bush and I think about Blair, how my people livin' in fear," would sound excruciating coming from most other singers. Without that cool jungle beat and Tippa Irie's dancehall patois, "Angry" would lose most of its power. But much like hip-hop's takes on inner-city life, reggae has a rich legacy of making protest music a popular (and populist) art form. By fusing contemporary woes with a future-tilting reggae, The Bug can register his points without losing his cool. And in uncertain times like these, we need just that kind of real, honest music, speaking not only to us but for us.
* MP3: "Angry" - The Bug ft. Tippa Irie from London Zoo [Buy it]