Articulate, charismatic, peaceful, and gifted with a knack for sloganeering, Michael Franti is a one-man protest movement, a dude so PC he'd rather protest the WTO than drive a GTO. Over the last decade-and-change, he's been an agitprop punk rocker (with the Beatnigs); the West Coast's answer to Chuck D and Gil Scott-Heron (with the industrial-rap outfit Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy); and a unifier of reggae, soul, and funk influences with his current outfit, Spearhead.
Everyone Deserves Music, Franti & Spearhead's latest effort, is the type of record that will probably be ignored by corporate radio while achieving heavy rotation on community stations. The album takes a multifaceted, multicultural musical approach that, for better or worse, aims for a universal appeal. The singer-rapper-poet has refined his once-angry outbursts into sexy sound bites: "You can bomb the world to pieces, but you can't bomb it into peace." Franti's lyrics have remained progressive while he has crossed over from Mohawked-and-safety-pinned audiences to the Ani DiFranco/Ben Harper crowd, yet his sound has become progressively more middle-of-the road.
It's somewhat telling that two of Everyone Deserves Music's highlights come courtesy of the production expertise of Sly and Robbie (Bob Dylan, Grace Jones, Black Uhuru). Franti adopts a passable Jamaican inflection on "Pray for Grace," while the Riddim Twins work their dancehall magic on a remix of "Bomb the World" (also featuring Ledisi and Radioactive). But far too many other songs are an overcooked stew of arena-rock power chords, funk basslines, and R&B backing vocals, and the house/disco beat of "Love Invincible" loses the message in a mirrorball haze. Thankfully, he redeems himself on the album's closer, "Crazy, Crazy, Crazy." Over exquisitely minimalist bossa nova/folk textures, Franti delivers both inspirational imagery and social commentary ("We're breathing the same air/Don't tell me that you don't care"). The mix of mellow rhythms and hardcore consciousness is a winning combination, especially because Franti gets his point across without laying it on too thick.
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