Michael Franti and Spearhead, 'Yell Fire!'

IssueOctober 2006
Review by Ippy

Despite weak reviews in the mainstream left press, I really wanted to like this album.

Having nominally followed Franti's musical career since his early work with the Beatnigs in the late 80s, through Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy in the early 90s, and later into Spearhead, I feel like I have witnessed a decline in musical passion over the years. Perhaps age, fatherhood and a penchant for weed have mellowed him a little too much. However, Spearhead's numerous albums have spanned an incredibly wide range of styles and arrangements - some of which have been damn fine and funky - and Franti has certainly found substantially more commercial success for the change.

Spearhead are a fantastic live band - all the members are both talented and engaging - with Michael towering “six foot six above sea level” a charming and committed frontman. However, as a studio band I have always found them a bit disappointing and this album takes that one step further.

As ever, the sentiments are fine and delivered very genuinely, but for an album which was inspired by his journeys to war zones around the Middle East and with a title like Yell Fire, it's just lacking, well, a certain “fire” really. It's a far cry from Franti's semi-industrial roots, or the in-your-face, damning indictments of US and corporate power delivered on Hiphoprisy's 1992 album Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury.

Despite the lyrics and perhaps with the exception of Time to Go Home and the title track itself, musically this album contains a fair dose of what can only be described as soft rock. Franti and the band are consummate musicians and excellent arrangers, but the underpowered rock, and reggae-lite, really annoy after a while.

If you like your lyrically political music well arranged and delivered, but not very musically challenging, then you'll probably really like this. But if you are after something with the funk of Stay Human, the soul of Home, or the more militant attitude of Heroes or Beatnigs, you will be a bit disappointed.

Spearhead play UK and European dates in December.

Topics: Culture
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