Ben Harper: expressing the anger from the US


Both Sides of The Gun
Ben Harper
Virgin Records


"You whip the back of freedom till it bleeds an oil stream
And you sailed down upon it in your killing machine
Old men who send children off to die in vain
They will hear death's constant whisper
Call remember my name."

So go the lyrics of "Gather Around the Stone" on Ben Harper's latest album, Both Sides of the Gun.

The album takes the two types of music that Ben Harper is most often associated with, slide guitar-based rock and a gentle love-song style, and puts each genre on a different disc.

I have to admit I found it hard to listen straight through the disc with all the gentle love songs, not because they were bad songs, but because it would have been better to disperse the politically motivated blues/rock guitar songs through the whole album.

The blues/rock songs express anger at the political situation in the US. Harper makes the biggest references to the devastation caused by the 2005 hurricane in New Orleans and the reasons for sending troops to Iraq, as the song "Gather Around the Stone" shows.

Harper's song "Black Rain" talks of the suffering of the people in New Orleans and the political ferment that the government's lack of response to the crisis created.

"You have them swimming for their lives down in New Orleans
Can't afford a gallon of gasoline"

"This government business is straight up sadistic
A black rain is going to fall.
You don't fight for us but you expect us to die for you
You may kill the revolutionary

But the revolution you can never bury

"And it won't be long until the people fill the streets and come for you
This generation is beyond your command
It won't be long until the people flood the streets and take you down one and all."

Harper has certainly got this part of the revolution right. Harper recognises that the revolution is carried out by the people and that the people need to flood the streets and they are often led by the youth and students.

Politics aside, the music on this album is quite tantalising and really hit a chord with me. The music of the blues/rock disc was the easier to listen to, but was too short. The sounds of the song "Better Way" were what enticed me to buy this album, with the multitude of different instruments used and the real emotion in the way Harper sings it.

"Better Way" seems to talk of Harper's disillusionment with the political situation in the US. "Better Way" has been compared with John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance" by a few music journalists. This comparison is valid; both songs are angry with the current situation, but do not address where it came from or how the problems will be solved.

In "Black Rain", Harper explores what he thinks will happen soon, with people on the streets. It still remains unclear to me as to what the "Better Way" is that he is talking about however.

Stay clear of this album if you do not want to hear a guitar love ballad and guitar-driven rock/blues sound, with a mix of the politics that Harper has played with in his songs in the past. The double disc, equal to a single disc in content, is a good album, with good rhyming lyrics and funky instrumental riffs. It's similar to Ben Harper's older releases with a new flair inserted.

From Green Left Weekly, May 3, 2006.
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