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Published: 2006/08/19
by Matt Brockett

Yell Fire! – Michael Franti and Spearhead

Michael Franti has always involved his politics in his music, and Yell Fire!, born out of his experience visiting war torn areas of the Middle East two years ago, doesn’t stray from that tradition in the least. The documentary film I Know I’m Not Alone visually chronicles Franti’s journey, and Yell Fire! is in a sense, a musical reaction to what he learned on his travels. The irony though, as anyone who is familiar with Spearhead’s music can likely attest, is that the band’s sound and Franti’s style are, for the most part, just way too freaking upbeat for songs about war. Deep and insightful messages have always been a common part of Franti’s lyrics, so be sure not to miss them when you’re bopping to the beat.

"Time To Go Home" opens the album with its roots reggae sound and laid-back yet charging groove. With the title track, Franti takes on the pharmaceutical industry, the war machine, capitalist culture and more, all in the form of a nice little rocker you can dance to. On "I Know I'm Not Alone," one of three tracks for which Franti enlisted the help of riddim kings Sly & Robbie, he delivers a tune that might surprise most fans, as it is likely his most radio-friendly mass-appeal work in years. The upbeat "Hello Bonjour" and the catchy "Hey Now Now" make much better use of Sly & Robbie’s talents, as they lay down their legendary drum and bass grooves on the reggae-tinged tracks. "Hey Now Now" also features the album’s only appearance of Spearhead’s immensely talented yet increasingly rare rapper, RadioActive.

Unity and understanding are prevailing themes in Franti's music, evidenced on "East To The West," when he preaches "Life is too short to make just one decision, music's too large for just one station, Love is too big for just one nation, and God is too big for just one religion." On "One Step Closer To You," Franti practically steals a song title from his friends the String Cheese Incident and delivers an undeniably fun and funky number that features backing vocals from none other than Pink. Yeah, that's right, Pink. If you ever wondered what disco Spearhead would sound like "Everybody Ona Move" is your answer. Franti is apparently quite confident in the power of his music as he raps "This track is love amplified, this track is love fortified, this track combats genocide."

"What I've Seen" is about as somber as Spearhead gets, but for a song about the human face of war it seems too abstract, almost sugarcoated, to really make an impact. "Light Up Ya Lighter" makes one wonder "where's the real fire?" Overall Yell Fire! seems to deliver a message of "love each other and everything’s gonna be alright," leaving the "get off your ass and change this shit now or we’re all fucked" songs for someone else to write. But that’s certainly not a bad thing, as somebody has to go the route of the less offensive to sneak a message of positive dissent into mainstream culture. The beauty of Franti and Spearhead is that they don’t just sneak the message in, they’ll make you dance to it too.

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