The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Wednesday, September 13, 2006
FUN-DA-MENTAL: ALL IS WAR

There are those among us, of course, for whom all is escapism; hide under the blankets and pretend that they’re still having uncomplicated fun. Some may still wish to pursue the Justin Timberlake path of pop-as-corporate-knocking-shop, who care nothing more about the Middle East than to visualise Timberlake in a mythical (or actual) Dubai, “swanning around in detective trenchcoats and big sunglasses and generally play-acting Thirties classicism,” while the world continues to burn remorselessly around their averting bodies, and view that as a good or even desirable thing. Yes, there are the unreconstituted doctrinaire popists, increasingly resembling the Japanese soldiers in the bush who still think that World War II is raging, or much, much worse, unapologetic post-Thatcher capitalists who still view the world as a playground in which to exercise their privileged right to do as they damn well please to whom they damn well displease. And then there are the turncoats; lapsed socialists creaming themselves over Paris Hilton and accusing detractors of wealth envy, just as Thatcher persisted in doing throughout the eighties as Brixton and Toxteth burned; or those who once blogged about music as though their lives depended on it, then immediately capitulated at the merest scent of a broadsheet freelance cheque, writing spurious rubbish about the “music blogosphere” in their reviews.

No, none of these souls, if souls they be, will entertain a record like All Is War, since its primary aim is not to entertain, but to provoke. In general such canting is mercilessly strung out to dry in the song “White Tongues” with its damning chorus of “When you say what we say then you say it’s OK/When we say what we wanna then you lock us away.” As indeed happened with Fun-Da-Mental back in 1993, at the time of their universally acclaimed Seize The Time, when the music press, such as it was then, could safely bracket them in with the Riot Grrls and Cornershop and Senser and a few others as “resistance” and “rebellion.” But continuing to resist and rebel in 2006 – oh, we’re so much older and richer, sorry wiser, now; the poor deluded fools…

Well, such reactions are the province of poor deluded fools, since by ignoring All Is War – and after the initial media controversy, that’s what most people seem to have done; when once “God Save The Queen” could be blanked out of the number one spot in Silver Jubilee week, now any dissent is politely labelled and stored out of the reach of impressionable would-be Cameronites – they are ignoring one of the most thrilling and dynamic albums I’ve heard in some time. The Pistols are duly acknowledged in the sleevenotes, and maybe you’d have to go back to the Pistols – or at the very least prime time Public Enemy – to find such articulate and incendiary rage. That rage roars into your cortex directly from the opening “I Reject” which angrily ticks off every perceived failing of Western society as it is so perceived. Beats are thunderous, choirs echo in grand, thunderous canyons of anger throughout tracks like “Electro G-Had” and “’786’ All Is War,” like Trans-Global Underground post-electrified cattleprod up the backside. These tracks describe possible pathways to mass rebellion and overthrow (the chilling concluding payoff of “Let’s build a mosque on Ground Zero!” which ends the latter track), but are far more of a warning than an incitement; this is what COULD happen if good people remain passive and do nothing. These tracks DEMAND attention, from body as well as soul.

Thus “Cook Book D.I.Y,” with its warped vibraphone-led crawl of a groove, like an older and more bitter Earthling, does depict a suicide bomber methodically assembling his device, but then pans out to consider the graduate research scientist open to the highest bidder, and then the Pentagon expert putting together the plan for the neutron bomb; the guilt is multiple and manifold (“The simplicity is numbing/Genius is dumbing down the situation to a manageable level”). Similarly, “B4 I Leave” shifts its perspective to encompass the Blairite platitudes of “The English Gentleman” and the righteous anger of “The Street,” bridged by an anguished female vocal (“I’m tired of the sight of you/Everything you stand for”). “White Tongues” itself is a rapid tabla rasa of rage, beefed up by the participation of “The Aki Under 10 Football Team” – but also underlines the essential demand of the record as a whole: “Until you learn to respect us.”

There are also comparatively straightforward, upbeat dance tracks like “Bark Like A Dog” and “Ya La Li,” powered by the Mighty Zulu Nation, which explode into delightful multilayered rave-ups reminiscent of the days of Rip Rig & Panic (i.e. when you could still do such things organically); but then there is the really dark stuff – “Parasites,” which in a neat reversal of the banjo-to-sarod journey of the Beach Boys’ “Cabinessence,” begins as a swirling Indian string drone and gradually mutates into deep, Delta blues guitar echoes (“This is why big fish continue to consume the small fish”) – the point is subtly and brilliantly made.

And then there is the devastating “5 Prayers Of Afghan Women,” where narrator Shivani describes the slaughter of her family – by bombs or by gunfire – and collapses into tears halfway through the recital; if nothing else, this track alone should be made compulsory listening for scoffers and accusers alike. Maybe, as Lester Bangs once opined, nothing is simple except the feeling of pain; but for the thousands we lost on 9/11 and 7/7, thousands are being lost, equally brutally and randomly, every bloodied day out of the corner of our reluctant eye. And certainly “5 Prayers Of Afghan Women” should silence the nonsense about All Is War being a pamphlet of extremist Islamism; in such a system, neither music or women would be heard. Yet the anger is so vast and palpable that such a system could eventually come to pass; listen also to the fearsome percussive procession and half-tempo lament of “Srebrenica Massacre,” and then do something about that chill running down the backbone; the river of percussion runs red throughout the entire album (and also consider the parallels with The Drift; all that talk about the Silver People…).

Finally, as Spike Lee does at the end of (and throughout most of) Do The Right Thing, Fun-Da-Mental’s frontman Aki Nawaz urges the listener to make their own mind up. There are two spoken passages; one, “Che Bin Pt 2,” appears halfway through the album and is a furious recitation of a speech by bin Laden where he argues against the concept of “innocent victims.” But “Che Bin Pt 1” ends the album, with a quietly authoritative recitation of a speech by Che Guevara, where he argues against terrorism (“since it often makes victims of innocent people and destroys a large number of lives that would be valuable to the revolution”) and in favour of industrial sabotage (“there will be displaced workers, but this is entirely justified by the paralysis of the life of the region”). Which one is it going to be? The placing of the latter at the end of the record suggests that this is the far more logical and rational response, and by far the more desirable option. But consider what has been said throughout the rest of All Is War; touch the anger which radiates down to every last hit of the tabla, and understand WHY people feel so marginalised, patronised, abused and generally shat upon that they feel that they need to blow up other people to achieve some recompense, because they actually feel that there is no other way left to them to express their disgust. Whose fault is that? Read this week’s Observer, with its six large, closely-typed pages devoted to a virulent, selective rant by Martin Amis against “Islamism,” in which he comments that “Naturally we respect Muhammad. But we do not respect Muhammad Atta.” Might I suggest that if the late Mr Atta had been afforded some basic respect by the society for which Amis stands in the first place, such that he didn’t feel so alienated and so susceptible to fatal persuasion that he had to crash a ‘plane to make his “point,” things like 9/11 would have been far less likely to have occurred? Or, several pages ahead in the same section, the comments of one Killian Fox on Asian Dub Foundation’s soundtrack for the opera Gaddafi: A Living Myth, currently playing at the London Coliseum: “Their tunes appear to be stuck in 1995, when drum ‘n’ bass was an edgy novelty…there seemed to be very few self-contained ‘songs’.” In other words: get back in your cage, monkeys, know your place and keep it (and, of course, it's quite all right for the Kaiser Chiefs to be stuck in 1995). As I said, most people would prefer not to look a record such as All Is War squarely in the eye; it’s so much more profitable and FUN to consider whether old Justin is sexual predator or being predated on, and who wants to drag dreary old politics into this shiny yellowing Thatcherkid world? But then, reject All Is War, and you have to reject, among many other things, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, the collected works of Phil Ochs (and most of the collected works of Joan Baez) and everything by Buffy Sainte-Marie; consider especially the latter’s “Moratorium” with its howl of “FUCK THE WAR AND BRING OUR BROTHERS HOME” – and that’s before we even start on Sly or the Temptations or Shepp or Hendrix or Simone or Lincoln. I would urge every one of you readers to seek out All Is War, listen to it and comprehend what it’s trying to tell us, how it’s trying to warn us; it’s available in shops now, though I’ve no idea for how long, but grab it while it’s here – as far as incendiary post-punk/post-rap energy and emotion are concerned, it’s easily on a par with Never Mind The Bollocks and Nation Of Millions. Whatever you do, don’t just sit there.


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