February 11, 2004

Bobby Conn "The Homeland"

Making politically-charged art is always a gamble, because you're dancing the fine line between timely and timeless, especially when rallying against a particular administration or politician. You've got to make your message general enough to stand alone, yet you need to focus it enough to make it a direct commentary. If you get it right, you'll produce a scathing statement; if you do it wrong, you'll produce a period piece that borders on ranting that will probably be forgotten after a year or two. "The Times They Are A-Changin'" is a great, timeless political statement; Some Time in New York City is not.

Bobby Conn's new album, The Homeland, is a surprisingly upfront political record. As you can gather by the title, yes, it's about the Bush administration. Yes, it's rallying against the President. Sadly, Conn and company succumb to the main problem with current political commentary: restraint. It's really easy to paint your enemy as an evil, vulgar, ignorant. Subtle commentary, though, is necessary, especially if you seek to have some sort of credibility. After all, the drunk on the corner ranting and screaming about whatever it is that's on his mind lacks subtlty; when was the last time the world took him seriously?

This, then, is The Homeland's greatest flaw. Bobby Conn may or may not be the Antichrist; he's said so himself. So why, then, would the antichrist have a problem with evil? Why would he all of a sudden be so...moral? It doesn't ring true, and I'm left thinking, "Just who is Bobby Conn?" This newfound morality is...puzzling...especially coming from someone so decadent as Conn. Perhaps he's had a religious conversion? No, I don't think so. Even though he's found something to be political about, he still sounds the same old Bobby Conn, down with the shady side of life, into all the things you oughtn't do.

And that's the one thing that saves The Homeland: even though contextually this album will not stand up in to his other records, it's still pretty good, rock-solid music. He's honed down his glam to a haughty shine; if anything, he's come pretty damn close to The Man Who Sold The World-era David Bowie. You could probably accuse him of trying too hard to be political, because in so doing, it makes The Homeland sound like one Sinead O'Connor guest vocal away from being a lo-fi remake of The The's Mind Bomb. (Just listen to the actually pretty good "We're Taking Over The World" and tell me Conn's not aping Matt Johnson, even if it's unintentional. At times, the political concept runs very thin, but don't fret, because the weakest songs in the concept--"Cashing Objections" and "Bus No. 243"--also turn out to be the album's best songs. Musicwise, the album's unbeatable, too; I'm really down with the lush disco-funk that runs throughout, even on songs like "Relax," ones I don't necessarily like lyricwise.

Not every artist hits a home run, and though Conn's intention might have seem idealistic, it doesn't work for me. I'm not buying it at all. I prefer Bobby Conn to be sleazy and drunk and trying to sleep with my girlfriend again and not trying to be a moral teacher. It just doesn't seem right, and though The Homeland isn't strong, it shows that Conn and company still got it. Hopefully, he'll be back to the sleaze soon.

--Joseph Kyle

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