I’ve always been a huge fan of Michael Franti from as far back as his Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy days and I usually find great joy in a new Spearhead album. Has something changed in me or in Franti? Because I’m actually quite disappointed with All People. Its not what you would usually expect from Spearhead, ranging from pop rnb through some ‘ok’ reggae but it feels like the man has lost some of his fight and for this artist, this is a detrimental change. This is a man (and group) who brought us such powerful lyrical genius over the years and such political vitriol in their songs that seeing them these days really brings an activist’s tear to my eye. But ‘All People’ is not that power, not that anger and by far not that same political vitriol it used to be. It’s a shame, and I, as a listener and supporter, feel slighted by this gradual and now completely diluted political change in Franti.
The majority of the songs on the album are effectively love songs. Not entirely sure who to, but whether child or lover, they have a very twee and kitsch feel to them. This is the type of album I expect of a teen pop star, not a fiery dreadlocked activist who is known for spitting some of the most intelligent lyrics in hip-hop/roots I have ever seen. He has a way of intoxicating any audience he stands in front of and even this writer is not sure at what point it really changed. I will say though, ‘Rebel Music’, despite its great title, was probably the album where I first heard the change in content which eventually became ‘All People’.
Having said all this, there are some really great songs on the album; they’re just not what you expect. I can imagine if you’ve never heard Michael Franti and Spearhead that some people might really like this album. Some of the highlight tracks are ‘Earth from outer Space feat. K’naan’ and ‘Life is better with you’ right in the middle of the album. K’naan is a brilliant artist and known for some of the most melodic and sweet politically motivated hip-hop outside of the US and he is a brilliant attribute to the song. Similarly ‘Life is Better with You’ is such a sweet and lovely song that you can forgive Franti for his generally apolitical stance on the album. That said, a lot of the songs have this appeal with rnb licks and even some straight up pop techno invading the once direct reggae sound of Spearhead’s past. But its just not the same.
It’s really quite a short release for its infectious love inspired pop-esque sounds. Clocking in at just a measly 40 minutes, if you bought it expecting to listen to it over and over again you’d be right. And previously, the last couple of Spearhead albums have been this length but they filled it with social and political commentary that it was generally ok. Now I feel like he has diluted the politics so much that it feels like an afterthought in the scheme of things.
I’m not going to say this is a ‘bad’ album, but it’s definitely not what we have come to expect from a man known for being angry and activist. Now it just feels like he has resigned to being Obama’s bitch and that’s saying something. Incidentally enough, if you don’t know, he wrote and performed the theme song for Barack Obama’s winning of the presidency a couple of years ago. I wonder if he feels bad about it considering the political landscape in the US right now with all the Snowdens, Mannings and more tainting what could have been a political movement we could celebrate as the Luther King-like president African-American people could have been proud of. I think Franti has given up and I feel like that’s the most shameful thing of all in this album.
5/10 Aging Activists