10 new albums for a world on fire

January 31, 2020
10 new political albums january 2020 album artwork

Here's a look back at January's political news and the best new albums that related to it. There are actually far more than 10 - count them. What albums would you suggest? Comment on TwitterFacebook, or email


"You're an idiot mate, you really are." That's what one bushfire victim told Australian Prime Minister Scott "ScoMo" Morrison on January 2, and it seemed much of the rest of the world agreed. Two years after he held up a lump of coal in parliament and declared, "this is coal, there's nothing to be afraid of", Australia was hit by its worst bushfire season on record. In the midst of it, ScoMo left the country, telling his staff not to reveal where he was. It was only when volunteer firefighters were killed that he admitted he was on holiday in Hawaii, returned to the country and insisted Sydney's New Year's Eve fireworks go ahead, to show the rest of the world all was "positive" in Australia. Except at the NYE concert, rock star Tex Perkins gave ScoMo the finger before launching into "The Honeymoon Is Over". Among all the fundraising for the volunteer firefighters was this brilliant album, ScoMo goes to Hawaii, which takes Australian irreverence to a whole new level. LISTEN>>>    


ScoMo even insisted the bushfire smoke choking Sydney's residents was normal, putting him at odds with health officials, historians, and Australian punk rockers Amyl & The Sniffers. "The sun is burning bright orange," frontperson Amy Taylor said. "It’s really scary, but the government isn’t listening ... Scott Morrison is fucking the environment and the working class." To that end, when staff at stevedoring company DP World stopped work during Sydney's most intense periods of smoke haze, the company refused to pay them. Knowing such battles all too well is Adelaide rapper Subliminal P.N, whose latest album, Proletarian, takes on the plight of the working class. "The people in the trenches, the people that carry the weight of a company that squeezes the bone marrow and wealth out of their sweat and hard work, are the real heroes in this world," he said. "I felt as though I was carrying multi-generational labour with me when I was writing this project." LISTEN>>>


ScoMo claimed he was in Hawaii because he needed a break before he travelled to India to carry out the noble task of selling them Australian coal, despite the fact that, in neighbouring Bangladesh, they were calling him a climate criminal. In India, protests were flaring up against the racist and worker-bashing policies of ScoMo's soulmate, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Among the protesters were many musicians, including Haris Saleem of rappers Street Academics, who said: “Since hip-hop is the most political of all genres, it was only natural for us to express our solidarity with the millions of protesters.” In all the backlash, ScoMo cancelled his trip to India. Days later, the world's biggest asset manager, BlackRock, announced it was abandoning thermal coal. But ScoMo dug in, saying coal was worth $70 billion a year to the Australian economy. He didn't mention the bushfire costs, or the $29 billion a year in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. LISTEN>>>  


Exactly how serious BlackRock is about abandoning ScoMo's beloved black rocks will be seen in February. That's when one of its companies, Siemens, has the opportunity to abandon its contract with Indian mining giant Adani, which is building the huge, Great Barrier Reef-destroying Carmichael coal mine in Queensland. On January 12, Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser issued a statement saying the multinational conglomerate would fulfil its contract. Meanwhile, protests against Adani continued, including a new fundraising album featuring many of the musicians who are at the coalface, camped at the Adani site in protest. The album ranges from professionally-produced studio tracks to rough field recordings that transport the listener directly to the dirt of the protest site. As the bushfires raged, the world looked to Australia's Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, to push for a transition to renewables. Instead Albo, famed for his youth-vote-winning deejay sets, backed coal. LISTEN>>>  


The pain that white Australians are feeling at their loss of lifestyle from the bushfires is nothing compared with the loss of lifestyle Aboriginal people have been feeling for 250 years. To mark their dismay at Australia's latest environmental travesty, Aboriginal flags around the country were flown at half mast. Amid the sorrow, Aboriginal "outback rapper" Lucky Luke released his long-waited third album, 3rd Time Lucky, on January 4. The album offers a vivid snapshot of life as an Indigenous Australian in 2020, from pimping rides ("My Stereo Is Worth More Than My Car") and promoting culture ("Bushman") to grieving over the loss of it ("Dispossessed" and "Family Tree").

Lucky Luke has catchy melodies in his blood — his aunt is an award-winning musician — and blew up nationwide with his debut album a few years back. 3rd Time Lucky loses none of that catchiness, while injecting a grittiness that Luke sees daily in his job as a case worker in a rehab. LISTEN>>>  


On January 26, thousands of people across Australia protested against 250 years of colonisation as others celebrated Australia Day, the date which marks the invasion of the Europeans. Summing up the controversy was the new album from multi-award winning Australian country musician Luke O'Shea, released nine days earlier.

On "Happy Australia Day", he sings: "Cowboys verses Indians, white man verses savages, is what I was shown on TV. I knew more about the World Wars, the Zulu and the Navajo, than I did of my own history. But as you begin to uncover the sin, you can feel your heart drowning in shame. It all starts with a lie we no longer deny, and it’s time that we all knew your name. So Pemulwuy are you still fighting, Windradyne your song we shall sing, and for all your senseless suffering, Truganini did it mean anything? For every chain that has bound you, for the children stolen away, well the river still runs from the same poisoned well. Happy Australia Day." MORE>>> 


Playing up to its global stereotype as a racist and sexist nation, Australia awarded men's rights activist Bettina Arndt an Australia Day Honour on January 26, for services “to gender equity through advocacy for men”. The award came despite her offending sexual abuse survivors and championing offenders, including conducting a sympathetic interview with a convicted paedophile. Taking the opposite tack was the new album released two days earlier by Les Amazones D'Afrique, a pan-African female supergroup formed when three Malian music stars and activists began a conversation about gender equality.

“What we found was that female repression in the continent and in the world, is something that touches every woman,” they said. “It’s not a question of colour or culture. It’s something generic. All women can relate to it... The new generations are rising against traditions, especially in Africa. So, you have many young men in women’s right associations." LISTEN>>>


Also touching on universal politics was the new album from US singer-songwriter David Rovics, who adds a new slant to his sound with backing vocals from veteran Green Left contributor Kamala Emanuel and activist Lorna McKinnon. On "Failed State", he could just as easily be addressing Australia as the US when he sings: "When you're facing climate breakdown, when the trees are all on fire, when half the country's underwater, when a climate change denier, runs the nation and the opposition party, votes for oil rigs and pipelines, this is not so much a country as it is a corporation. Buckling under its weight, you know you're living in a failed state." As the US edged ever closer to war with Iran, the song also blasted: "When your nation is an empire facing daily blowback, and the only thing your leaders can think to do is attack, bipartisan consensus that we need to spend, 700 billion before the year's end, on a military budget to make America great, you know you're living in a failed state." LISTEN>>>  


Also attacking Donald "Make America Great Again" Trump were legendary punks Anti-Flag with their anthemic new album, which puts the US president directly in its crosshairs. While discussing the hard-as-nails record, released on January 17, singer and guitarist Justin Sane said: "Trump says things that are coded language to neo-Nazis and white supremacists. And one of them is 'Make America Great Again'. 'Make America Great Again' was the phrase of the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, in the ’70s and ’80s. And if you’re not a white supremacist, you probably don’t know that. But if you are a white supremacist, you do know that. So when you hear Donald Trump running for president and his phrase is 'Make America Great Again', I believe he is a white nationalist, and he knows exactly what he is saying." A week later, US punk-soul outfit Algiers released their new politically charged record, saying: "The US is in a complete spiral and collapse." MORE>>>


As Trump's racist pal Boris Johnson celebrated his election as Britain's PM, the music protests flowed thick and fast. Grime star Stormzy, who hit No 1 with his blast against Boris, "Vossi Bop", said it was "a dark day for minorities". Punk rapper Ratboy released a new EP titled Government Vacation. Revered electronic musician Fourtet made a post-election mix set to "100 voices" from UK youth. Even hoary old rockers The Who returned with a fiercely anti-establishment album.

But articulating the anger best was singer-songwriter Beans On Toast with his new album, The Inevitable Train Wreck. On "World Gone Crazy" he sings: "On the brink of extinction, in the age of anxiety, everywhere you look is another catastrophe. Carbon emissions keep rising drastically, as do the oceans and the uses of energy. Deforestation, the endless calamity. Artificial intelligence, terrifying technology. Losing our grip on a decent democracy. Front row seats to the end of humanity." LISTEN>>> 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mat Ward has been writing for Green Left since 2009. He also wrote the book Real Talk: Aboriginal Rappers Talk About Their Music And Country and makes political music. This month, he released a new concept album about the media. Download the deluxe version free for a limited time here.

Stream our political albums playlist on Spotifyhere.

Read about more political albums here.

Stream Green Left TV's political music playlist here.

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