Propagandhi - Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes
Fat Wreck Chords
Most everyone I know has that band that, in their youth, was a
defining and inspiring force. As trite as it may sound, I'm sure most
people could trace back through their personal musical heritage and tell
you exactly which band helped make them who they are today. That band, for
me, is Propagandhi. In the 9th grade, when I was mired in my
reflectively-described "dark age of punk rock," I couldn't get out of my
Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords rut. Every band I listened to sounded like NOFX;
each was equally mindless. It is fitting, then, that I would eventually
stumble across Propagandhi.
Their first album sounds almost exactly like NOFX. I mean, Chirst,
the first time I ever heard them I thought it was a new NOFX
CD. Obviously, I had to buy it! As anyone who knows Propagandhi at all could
tell you, the differences between both of these bands, lyrically, couldn't be
any more starker. As a fifteen year old who was pretty oblivious to issues such
as American imperialism, the problems with capitalism, and sexism, to name a
few, this album turned out to be quite revelatory. Eventually I ditched
the mindless pre-pubescence of NOFX, but Propagandhi remained a
constant. A couple years later they released their second CD and shortly
thereafter that a split 10" record with fellow canadians, I-Spy. Even though my
musical tastes had vastly changed, Propagandhi remained one of my favorite
bands. They were completely catchy and accessible while maintaining a
political edge rivalled only by hardcore bands like Los Crudos or
Spitboy. As a member of the Fat roster, they stuck out like a sore
thumb. I think this catchiness (or lack thereof), though, is what emerges
as "Today's Empires'" biggest flaws.
One of the most notable differences between this album and the
last two is the notable absence of bass player John Samson and the
melodic influence he obviously brought to the band. A couple years ago
Samson left the band and formed his own, decidely less abrasive, band.
The difference is glaring in the second song, 'Fuck the Border,' when
his replacement takes over vocal duties. While Samson's lead vocal work
was always on the softer, more melodic Propagandhi songs, Todd, the new
bassist, makes his presence felt with the most abrasive song on the album.
His vocal work is almost the complete opposite Samson's. Hints of Chris'
melodic lead vocals peek out over the course of the album, but this is a
decidely rougher and more driving Propagandhi.
For someone like me, this is far from a bad thing. I listen to a
good amount of stuff almost completely devoid of melody. Their music fits
the political content of their lyrics now, I suppose. No longer are they a
pop-punk band with great lyrics. I guess I'm both happy and sad at thier
"maturity." If Propagandhi had sounded like this when I was fifteen
years old I never would have gotten into them. I never would have mistaken
them for NOFX and I can't imagine anyone doing the same either. I guess it
makes me a bit sad to think that a band with such brilliant and
necessary messages has likely cut out the demographic who needs them
most. God knows I would be a much different person if I had never taken
the chance to actually read this dumb pop-punk band's lyrics.
Personal complaints aside, this is a very good punk record. I can't say
that it's nearly as catchy or likeable as the first two, and for that
reason it's a bit of a letdown after a five year hiatus. I can safely say
that if this hadn't been five years in the making and it wasn't
Propagandhi who made this record, I would like it a lot more. It's hard to
be objective with your favorite bands. I can't help but want John and Chris'
harmonies back again. That said, Propagandhi again released an album full of
important lyrical content and amazing musicianship, though. Hopefully people
can look past their change in sound and hear what is truly meaningful behind
this record. Take the time to work through it and read the lyrics, it is
surely rewarding and still as moving, politically, as ever.
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