Astoundingly successful hip-hop performer Michael Franti is probably better known these days for his work with Spearhead on albums like "Everyone Deserves Music". Listeners who enjoy his sense of melody and the catchy music provided by his backing musicians are strongly advised to avoid this album. Listeners who can look beyond the catchy lyrics and appreciate the message behind them will more than likely find something to enjoy here.
The Disposable Heroes were an industrial-hip-hop-performance poetry duo from the early 90s who pulled absolutely no punches when it came to their subject matter. Being an explicitly political group, much of this album refers to events and personalities current in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War and the United States of George Bush Snr. That said, there is a surprising universality in some of the tracks which enables them to communicate their message more than 10 years after they were recorded.
The most well-known performance on this album is the minor hit "Television, The Drug Of A Nation". Franti's condemnation of television culture "where pop stars metamorphosise into soda pop stars/you saw the movie/you heard the soundtrack/now buy the drink/for the only cola that I support/would be a Union COLA - Cost of Living Allowance" is as current now as it was then. Indeed, the plethora of reality TV shows in today's world demonstrates the validity of Franti's comments.
Also worth a listen is "Satanic Reverses" (itself a reference to Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses"), a condemnation of almost everything a government could possibly do - with the strident chorus "bail out the banks/loan art to the churches/satanic reverses". "Socio-Genetic Experiment", a semi-autobiographical tale of Franti's youth, is also an interesting performance.
Slightly more dated tracks are "The Winter of the Long Hot Summer", a first-person retelling of the first Gulf War, and "California Uber Alles" - a Dead Kennedys cover lambasting then-California Governor Pete Smith. While many of the specific references may be lost in both songs, the messages are as clear now as they ever have been. It's tempting to replace Gov. Smith with any politically divisive leader in the modern world and notice just how true the song remains.
Capping the disc off is the subdued "Water Pistol Man". This track would later be re-worked by Spearhead, and it's quite easy to see why. Franti's casual delivery of the line "Why don't you stop and smell the flowers in your own backyard?" sets the blueprint for what would become known as the Spearhead sound.
Aside from Franti's unique vocal delivery (the Heroes only ever released this one album and by the time Spearhead convened, Franti would have developed a much more folksy idiom), credit must be given to Rono Tse's music. On a politically-driven album, the music must walk a narrow line between keeping the song going but also not detracting from the lyrics. While it might sound strange to say that Tse's atonal soundscapes, embracing everything from power tools to frantic DJ scratching, manage to do both these things, they do. Somehow or another, the two sides of the band complement each other perfectly.
So again, Franti-fans who enjoy Spearhead's melody and music sense should avoid this album. For the listener who can appreciate Franti's political vision and pull-no-punches turns of phrase, this will be a much-valued CD.