Digging in shallow ground

Issue 

Blowout Comb
Digable Planets
EMI
Reviewed by Zanny Begg

Digable Planet's 1993 release Reaching (a New Refutation of Time and Space) was unforgettable. It had a catchy, slick beat. But what made the album really stay in your mind was its classic pro-choice song, "Femme Fatale".

"Femme Fatale" was a song about abortion that every feminist had been waiting to hear. Its message was direct: it is the woman who should decide whether to have an abortion — "abortion should be your volition".

It pointed the finger at those who try to deny women this choice: "They don't really give a damn about life/ They just don't want a woman to control her body". It said plainly that so-called pro-lifers support violence, harass women outside clinics and don't give a damn about the economic state of those unborn children they so passionately defend.

"Femme Fatale" made Reaching more than just a cool album. It gave the whole CD lasting appeal. It announced that Digable Planets were a band to watch. Sadly, the Planets' latest offering, Blowout Comb, does not take the next step forward politically. Musically, it is an interesting combination of '70s pop, jazz, Latin beats and hip hop, but the overall effect is too smooth and syrupy.

Digable Planets, labelling themselves as "forward thinking revolutionaries", describe Blowout Comb as a political maturation for the band. The album cover declares boldly that Blowout Comb "displays the growth of our three comrades both musically and lyrically. This album is a must for the masses and required listening for the movement cadres."

Well, movement cadres may enjoy looking at the cover, which is emblazoned with demands for the release of black political prisoners and quotes about the need for revolution, but in the songs themselves the politics remain a mystery. Only snatches of meaning come through the music. Phrases like "Black people steal your minds back" and "Black man standing in the face of oppression" drift through the beat, but the overall message remains very general. You are left wondering if there is more depth to the songs or if the band is digging in shallow ground.

Blowout Comb does not live up to the political message the Planets claim it embodies. They are strong on black pride but offer less political explanation than groups like Arrested Development or the now defunct Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. Fans of Digable Planets will need to keep watching for their next album.

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