Messing With Texas

Rockers bash Bush, with varying results

"Our motto: anything but Bush," Lou Reed recently told Rolling Stone, voicing a refrain that's becoming increasingly common among musicians. Not since the Reagan administration has a president catalyzed so much protest music: In the past year, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Don Henley, Moby, Willie Nelson and Tom Morello have all expressed their opinions of Dubya in spoken word or song. There's plenty of Bush bashing going on, but how much of it is worth a spin? Here's a sampler:

Beastie Boys, "In a World Gone Mad" (www.beastieboys.com)

"In a world gone mad, it's hard to think right," MCA spits at the opening of this download-only cut. Maybe that explains why "In a World Gone Mad" is so inexplicably lame. The Beastie Boys made their rep by generating some of the most clever wordplay in rap--remember, this is the group that once rhymed "booty" with "Susan Faludi." But for clumsy raps, it doesn't get much worse than: "Now don't get us wrong, we love America/But that's no reason to get hysterica."

Out of a slew of protest songs, only a handful--like John Mellencamp's "To Washington" and Public Enemy's "Son of a Bush"--hit their target.
Paul Jasmin
Out of a slew of protest songs, only a handful--like John Mellencamp's "To Washington" and Public Enemy's "Son of a Bush"--hit their target.

NOFX, "Idiot Son of an Asshole" (Fat Records)

In the past, when NOFX took a stand, it was usually atop a keg of Bud. Now the punks are more about social awareness than suds. In wedding front man Fat Mike's nasally snarl and NC-17 wit with political vitriol, "Asshole" is a fast, funny rant arguing that somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot.

Six Feet Under, "Amerikka the Brutal" (Metal Blade)

For most death-metal bands, war is like Christmas, happy hour and Anton LaVey's birthday all rolled into one. But not for these Florida longhairs, who registered one of 2003's best metal anthems with this acerbic anti-war tirade. "Mr. President, I'm not going to do your dirty work," Chris Barnes roars over chugging, meat-clever riffs. Give peace a chance--or this band will kill you.

Paula Cole, "My Hero, Mr. President" (www.paulacole.com)

The Dawson's Creek diva demonstrates that she's better off serving up the soundtrack to horny-teen melodramas than aping Al Franken. Full of pithy presidential putdowns--"Your bed is lined with dollars/I bet you're coming oil"--the song is silly and self-righteous. "Now what about us folks who live hand to mouth?" the platinum crooner asks unconvincingly. "We can't afford our lives, and we're working three jobs." Uh, yeah. Paula's triple duty must be singing, sermonizing and sucking.

Public Enemy, "Son of a Bush" (Koch)

With Chuck D. frothing rhymes over growling metal riffs, this cut is rap rock's redemption. Chuck is less an MC than one big throbbing vein with a microphone. "I ain't callin' for no assassination," he bellows. "I'm just asking who voted for this asshole of the nation?" Backed by Terminator X's chaotic scratches and sirens that approximate an agitated car alarm, this cut, like Michael Moore's acceptance speeches, makes conservative blood boil.

John Mellencamp, "To Washington" (www.johnmellencamp.com)

Mellencamp's wizened, sandpapery voice is all grit and gravity. On this sparse folk shuffle, he's backed only by acoustic guitar and fiddle, lending an understated beauty to this fist-shaking foot-stomper. One of the few anti-Bush tunes that's as eloquent as it is angry.

Pearl Jam, "Bushleaguer" (Epic)

"The haves have not a clue," Eddie Vedder moans on this moody rocker, which slowly crawls like a lit fuse toward an explosive climax. A smart, articulate critique of George W.'s life of privilege, "Bushleaguer" is one of the most salient swipes at the commander in chief. "Born on third," Vedder sings of Bush. "Thinks he got a triple."

Pennywise, "God Save the U.S.A." (Epitaph)

Pennywise's heart is much bigger than its brain. And while this protest anthem is laudably earnest, it's also radicalism at its most reductionist. "Apathy's the national disease, and there is no end in sight/God save the U.S.A./Blame the president and say your prayers tonight," front man Jim Lindberg wails over blitzing rhythms. It's a lot of knee-jerk sentiment, as intellectually lazy as the band claims Bush is.

 
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