Michael Franti has progressed a long way from his Beatnigs and Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy days. Recording with Spearhead since the mid-’90s, his music has steered ever further away from those hip-hop beginnings to embrace an intoxicating blend of pop, funk, soul, and reggae.
All Rebel Rockers finds Franti upping the reggae stakes. Recorded largely in Kingston, Jamaica, with producers Sly And Robbie, the album also includes guest appearances from Zap Mama founder Marie Daulne and dancehall singer Cherine Anderson.
Sly And Robbie’s slick production helps temper the heavy-handed approach of some of Spearhead’s earlier releases. The opening Rude Boys Back In Town sets the scene, with its dub-heavy beat offering a thrilling introduction to the album. Tailor made for live performance, this is a side of Franti that is rarely given chance to shine, and he continues this approach on A Little Bit Of Riddim, which benefits greatly from Anderson’s call and response vocals.
Normal service is resumed on Life In The City, Hey World (Remote Control Version), and The Future, with Franti declaiming his heavily politicised worldview of self-respect, responsibility, and faith in humanity. Pleasingly, he tempers some rather heavy-handed lyrics, the bane of previous Spearhead albums, with winning choruses. Nowhere is this better expressed than on the refrain of Life In The City – “put your hands up high, because you never now how long you’re going to live before you die”.
For all the heavy politicising on offer, Franti is at his least interesting when he strays into love song territory. Both All I Want Is You and I Got Love For You drift by on a bed of lazy reggae beats and clich�d lyrics, while smack dab in the middle of these two tracks Say Hey (I Love You) only maintains interest due to its upbeat dancehall rhythm.
Fortunately, the album kicks back into life in the second half with the declamatory Soundsystem (“The sound of a weapon called the microphone/Bring the revolution on”), a beautiful semi-acoustic version of Hey World (Don’t Give Up Version), and the shimmering High Low featuring Marie Daulne. In complete contrast to the opening tracks, the album ends on a gentle, acoustic note, with the rather charming Nobody Right Nobody Wrong and Have A Little Faith offering a neat summation of Franti’s message.
Frequently criticised for his peace and love sermonising, Franti and his Spearhead cohorts can be an acquired taste. It is pleasing to report that All Rebel Rockers is his most rounded album in a long while. The reggae rhythms will capture the crowds at summer festivals, and although some may find his lyrics rather jejune and repetitive at times, surely there is nothing wrong with a little peace and love?