Urban guerillas confront injustice
Just a Lifetime
Mad in Australia
Cloud Above my Head
Order at <http://www.arch.su.edu.au/~stewa_k/Lyrics.htm>
REVIEW BY ROBBIE CASEY
Marchers in this year's May Day parade in Sydney will remember the music of Urban Guerillas, a band that plays original, politically left material, with a broad-ranging sound that is sometimes mellifluous, sometimes almost punk, a la The Clash.
The band's core of bass, drums and guitar is augmented by violin and didgeridoo. (Memorably, on May Day, they were joined by Rodney, an Aboriginal busker from the Quay, for a didge duo.)
Urban Guerillas are headed by Sydney songwriter/guitarist Ken Stewart, who wrote (or co-wrote) the songs on their three CDS. Stewart's lyrics confront social injustice at the macro and micro scale.
On their first CD, Just a Lifetime, Stewart attacks atomic testing in the song "Maralinga". He exposes the military/industrial complex in "Killing Trade". And he offers an antidote in the form of the great sing-along song, "P-E-A-C-E".
The tongue-in-cheek parody of male sexism in the humourous, feminist song "Let's Talk", is so spot-on that it hurts. Bravo to Stewart for this cutting satire of those who would label themselves progressive, but still consider all women first as sex objects.
It is hard to write a love song that does not insult the intelligence, but one of the few personal songs on this mostly political album, "Love Makes Children", is such a song. It's soft vocal harmonies offer contrast to the stronger and louder political tunes. The album's final song, "Here Come the Americans", gets in a good dig at my country of exile, and the socially divisive, violent, culture that is the United States' chief export.
Urban Guerillas' second release, Mad in Australia, an extended EP containing five songs, is worth having especially for the anthemic "Workers United". The song's sole lyric is the timeless declaration: "workers united will never be defeated". These are rough-cut songs of working life by self-described punter, Stewart.
On Urban Guerrillas newly released third album, Cloud Above my Head, the song "Don't Treat Me That Way", co-written by Ken Stewart and Kim Cambridge, documents the sense of violation we feel each time we're expected to expose our personal belongings when exiting a chain store: "Leave your bags outside the door?/ This is Woolworth's not El Salvador/ Fill my trolley, then I pay and go/ Checkout, Checkpoint Bodysearch".
Cloud Above my Head features a larger percentage of reflective songs, which capture the feelings of alienation and despair that can result from the progress of neo-liberalism. But it's balanced with songs of empowerment, featuring an alternate version of the song "Maralinga", from Urban Guerillas' first album.
Given that the band has a wealth of original material, it is clear that this song is repeated now because of the ongoing relevance of its strong anti-nuclear message: "The shadow of the cloud of Hiroshima/ still blocks out the sun from the land/ Maralinga, it's a disgrace!"
One of the final cuts on Cloud Above my Head is "No Way to Live", a rhythmically driven number with a raw, rock sound. In this song Ken Stewart laments, "There's no humour left in the world!". But the sometimes dark wit of his social criticism offers a welcome exception to that trend.
Readers can access all Urban Guerillas' lyrics and order CDS through their web site: <http://www.arch.su.edu.au/~stewa_k/Lyrics.htm>.