Check this out. On Everyone Deserves Music, Michael Franti proclaims: No life’s worth more than any other. Talk about old school!
Granted, this sort of egalitarian premise still receives a good deal of lip service; depending on who’s doing the assuming, it’s an assumption about the world that’s variously termed Christian, humanist, civilized, democratic or American. But in practice, it’s dangerously out of favor on virtually all fronts.
This divide between our settled-for reality and our ideals exists, at least in part, because pursuing the ideal to its conclusions, as Franti does here on his fourth and finest Spearhead studio project, would demand choice and action. For instance, should we change the world or just give up on the ideal once and for all? Franti casts his vote for the former and, as his visionary title track insists, each of us (even our worst enemies, he says) deserves not only music but also food, health care, clean air and water, and peace. What’s more, we deserve these things not because we’re good or contribute to the bottom line or function as a means to some end but rather because we’re human beings. What distinguishes us from other animals is our ability to assign value and meaning, our desire to imagine alternatives, our need to create kinder and gentler realities. For Franti, this activity, practiced individually and collectively, is the primary point of any human life.
To that end, Franti borrows guitar licks from Prince and the Clash, and co-opts nearly every sort of rhythm under the sun. There are grooves from disco diva Donna Summer and reggae rhythm section Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare (who produce two tracks). There are Latin rhythms and jiggy-wit’-it beats and rock drums, all of them serving to bring us together for sing-along choruses that are perfect for a bumper sticker, a political rally or a revolution: Power to the peaceful, for instance, Love invincible, and We can bomb the world to pieces, but we can’t bomb it into peace. Franti’s hopeful baritone on the latter testifies with the aid of a gospel choir and arena-rock guitar scream. The arrangements aspire to accessibility, to a broad-based community of individuals (everyone deserves music), so piano and acoustic guitar and dense, heaven-bound strings make the songs and styles fit together naturally, thrillingly, with lots of smiles, sweat and tears.
Along the way, Franti pushes us to remember just what a fucked-up mess our species has made of things — and also how much is yet within our grasp if only we would reach out for one another. To my ears, this is the album of the year so far. But that is so beside the point.