Earle’s ‘Revolution’ fuses music, politics

The Revolution Starts…Now

Steve Earle

Singer/songwriter Steve Earle led protestors at the Republican National Convention last week. So it should be no surprise that his newest album carries a clear political message: the world's in trouble and it's time to do something about it.

The opinionated liberal rushed The Revolution Starts…Now to the shelves prior to the 2004 presidential elections because he sees President Bush and his administration as the scourge of the world. Music, Earle believes, is his outlet and his best chance to make a difference.

That said, it's easy to view Earle's album through glasses colored entirely by one's own political beliefs. Diehard Democrats may consider Revolution the greatest album of the year, while Republicans might wonder how a man producing such drivel can even score a record deal.

In this case, the liberal position is closer to the truth — but for purely musical reasons.

Earle begins his album with "The Revolution Starts," the type of twanging country rock song that has become the Texan's hallmark over the years. Behind the poignant chorus and distorted wall of guitars lies the album's tone-setting message — "The revolution starts now/When you rise above your fear/And tear the walls around you down."

With the table set, Earle moves into a hillbilly romp, "Home To Houston." The song, written from the point of view of an American truck driver working in Iraq, gives voice to an easily overlooked member of society. It's vintage Earle — musically and lyrically.

The commentary continues on melancholy folk tune "Rich Man's War," with Earle's burdened growl fitting the mood perfectly. His comparison of poor Americans enlisting in the military to young Palestinians strapping on suicide bombs is a stretch, though it does suggest an intriguing parallel.

Earle then stumbles badly on "Warrior" — a Shakespearean-style spoken rant aimed at President Bush — that's a painful listen. Though Earle's anger is obvious, the track is lacking the tactful protest found on its predecessors.

However, he returns to form quickly, telling the gloomy story of a veteran unable to return home on "The Gringo's Tale."

The fast-talking 49-year-old also reveals his sense of humor on "Condi, Condi," a tongue-in-cheek love song — featuring a calypso groove — dedicated to National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. And on "F the CC," a seething, anti-Big Brother rocker with a perfectly fitting f-word laden chorus, it's easy to imagine the impish smirk on Earle's face as he delivers one verbal dig after another.

But for all the political tracks on The Revolution, Earle delivers his best work when he puts his complaints on the backburner. He delivers a folksy duet with Emmylou Harris on "Comin' Around." However, "I Thought You Should Know" — an extraordinarily moving blues-rock ballad — is Earle's strongest in years. Pained lyrics — "If you're thinkin' 'bout breakin' my heart/You might as well just pick up your little black dress and go/Somebody else already tore it apart" — and an impassioned vocal combine to resonate long after the track's final note.

Earle returns to politicking with "The Seeker" and bookends the album with a slightly altered version of the opener. This time, though, there's a greater urgency in his voice.

The Revolution won't win John Kerry the presidency. Earle knows this. But the genre-bending bad boy — love him or hate him — makes some good points. Since the music doesn't lag behind the message, The Revolution's worth joining.

Grade: AB