Schmaltz During Wartime 

Mustard gas might be preferable to some of the recently released protest songs.

Musicians have a fine tradition of using their voices to quell the crimson tides of war, lifting our spirits as we hold hands in unison against political foes and forces. All we're saying is give peace a chance, 'kay? I gave my love a chicken that had no bones, right? And then I imagined a world where there was no hell below us and above us only sky.

This war's musical outcry is no different from those of the past, with one gleaming caveat. Whatever your feelings on folk music, most of the new protest songs concerning the war in Iraq -- how to put this maturely -- suck fetid donkey biscuits. This is the worst dreck ever to to be digitized 'n' downloaded.

Why should we be mad? Because the right is already having a field day with the handfuls of "unwashed" and unruly protesters who seem to steal the spotlight on the nightly news instead of the majority of peaceful ones, and now we have a barrage of limp-wristed, slapped-together, Birkenstock-bullshit songs for them to scoff at as well.

A rundown of the musical evildoers:

Beastie Boys "In a World Gone Mad" (available as a free download at www.wagingpeace.org). Remember the first time you tried your hand at rapping with your Realistic tape recorder while your mom hella banged on the door to your room and told you to shut up? Man, you sucked! It's funny to play it back now, huh. Wait ... dude, it sounds just like the new Beastie Boys song! You musta had mad skillz!

Where to start with this one? First, there are the lyrics. The Beasties have always been goofy but clever, but now they're just inane: "You and Saddam should kick it like back in the day/With the cocaine and Courvoisier." Oy. Then there's this tidbit: "Citizen rule number 2080/Politicians are shady/So people, watch your back 'cause I think they smoke crack/I don't doubt it, look at how they act."

The actual rapping sounds like Warren Beatty in Bulworth, with each line ending with the inflection of a question. The Beasties finally sound like the fortysomething, upper-middle-class Jewish guys they actually are. And the beats? J-E-N-K-Y, like watered down Yoo-hoo, like Sam the Butcher bringin' Alice da reconstituted soy product.

Lenny Kravitz "We Want Peace" (at www.lennykravitz.com).This song begins with a Spanish guitar, an Andrés Segovia-inspired acoustic noodle -- but once you hear what follows you'd gladly spend a day as a Protestant during the Inquisition rather than suffer through three more seconds of this MP3. "Come on, people!" he hollers. "It's time to get together! It's time for the revolution!" The last word is drawn out in corny reverb over some weak Rick James vibe with Kravitz' token fun-kay guitar work sprinkled about. "We're at the crossroads of the human race/Why are we kicking our own ass?" he asks. Why, indeed. He quickly runs out of stuff to say, so he fills a lot of the song with "Do doo doont, doo doo doont doo"s.

REM "The Final Straw" (at www.remhq.com). Okay, so this one doesn't entirely suck, but it is (surprise!) boring. At least Michael Stipe has written some decent lyrics: "As I raise my head to broadcast my objection/As your latest triumph draws the final straw/Who died and lifted you up to perfection?/And what silenced me is written into law." The words aren't literal or dogmatic, but aren't completely obtuse either.

Yeah, yeah -- it's the thought that counts. At least these people are saying something, even if it makes the Mick Jagger and David Bowie "Dancing in the Streets" collaboration for Live Aid seem like Pet Sounds by comparison. And to be fair, some musicians are putting out tolerable protest songs. Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth set up a Web site (www.protest-records.com) last month to collect antiwar songs. So far he has about a dozen free-for-download MP3s up there, two of which are actually pretty good: "Rockets" and "Maybe Not," both by Cat Power.

Then there are the hometown boys, Green Day, whose "Life During Wartime" is a rallying acoustic ditty (available from www.greenday.com) -- with lyrics by Aaron Elliot and Pinhead Gunpowder about living that good ol' East Bay slacker life that we're all guilty of while crap happens around the world: "A call to action and a reaction/Taking our lives in our own hands/Instead of sitting around and talking about the same old shitty bands/The war's going on right now, and I'm not doing anything about it/Without a crowd I'm not allowed/I can't do anything by myself/But that's just another lie." It's usually a good idea to avoid the "actually, it's all lies" thing in a protest song, but in this case it works. Maybe it's the "shitty bands" line that pulls it all together.

But we're still waiting for this year's "Give Peace a Chance." Like everything that matters these days, it's probably all gonna come down to one band: The Insane Clown Posse. "And when they came for my portly hesher buddy in bright red greasepaint and Pumas, there was no-one left to speak."

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