September 24, 2004

poster children 'on the offensive'

It's a difficult proposal, making a political record. More often than not, political songs--no matter how good they might be--often have a very short shelf life; after all, does anyone still heed--or care about--the issues that inspired the songs "Sun City," "Hurricane" or "Give Ireland Back To The Irish?" When dealing with political records, the line between 'timely' and 'timeless' is very, very fine. I have no problem with artists making a political statement; I do, however, find that many political records are often lacking in continual listenability; who wants to listen to preaching (often self-righteous preaching at that) on a repeat basis?

Alt-rock veterans Poster Children decided they were "pissed off" about the current state of affairs, and that they "didn't feel like keeping it to ourselves." Understandable, considering the (occasionally absurd) hysteria concering the upcoming election. Political differences aside, I have to give Poster Children credit; they understood that a timely record full of political songs might not make for a good listen, or perhaps they knew they couldn't make a good, original political song. So they decided to do the next best thing: a cover of political songs by the bands they admired!

Following on the heels of their red-hot return to form, No More Songs About Sleep and Fire, Poster Children do add a great deal of sparkle to these old songs. They might not completely make the songs their own, but they certainly breathe new life into them. As you'd expect, the majority of these songs are from punk bands; their covers of X's "The New World, Fear's "Let's Have a War" and Husker Du's "Divide and Conquer" sound inspired. Of course, you'd expect a collection of political music to contain a Clash song, and they offer "Clampdown," one of the lesser Clash numbers, and it didn't move me here, either. The two surprises are XTC's "Complicated Game," a great song that the band does justice and the surprising yet painfully obvious cover of Heaven 17's "(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang." While interesting on paper, their cover doesn't really work, and the song simply sounds like a long-lost Jawbox outtake.

While I have to give them credit for trying something new--and their covers of "Complicated Game" and "Divide " are really good, but that's because the original songs were good. A noble-minded experiment that, like most political music, will soon be dated. My question is this: will On The Offensive go out of print when George Bush is reelected?

--Joseph Kyle

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