Release Date: Jul 30, 2013
Record label: Capitol
Genre(s): Pop, Reggae, Alternative Rap, Contemporary Reggae
Michael Franti & Spearhead :: All PeopleCapitol RecordsAuthor: Steve 'Flash' JuonI always seem to say this when I review one of his albums, but it's been too long since we've spoken of Michael Franti. He's as much singer as rapper these days, but is honestly one of the few people other than Lauryn Hill who I believe is equally skilled at both - and enjoy either way. These days most audiences know him from his bubbly anthem to joy and relationships "Say Hey (I Love You)," but my first taste of him back in the early 1990's was as a protest rapper who was as much spoken word poet as emcee.
Michael Franti's evolution from pissed-off punk to flip-flop-wearing jam band man is fascinating because he's come off as sincere on either end, and with his 2013 release, he continues to confuse and sooth in equal measure. Good news is, the confused feeling fades once the sun-drenched, feel-good vibes of the latter sink in, with "I'm Alive (Life Sounds Like)" offering the most immediate relief from the drudgery of the day, coming off as a sing-along, clap-along, or whistle-along triple threat for the nighttime campfire hippie set. The opening title track is the same vibe with pop and slickness carrying its message of unity to the people, while "11:59" uses jam band melodies and hip-hop beats to persuade listeners to join Franti's chant for peace.
At one angle, Michael Franti’s career trajectory might seem unusual, or bizarre, even. That’s if you take as your starting-off point the industrial-ish group the Beatnigs and the still somewhat industrial, more storytelling/politics-focused Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. Set that next to the facts that Franti and Spearhead had a top 20 hit that’s a favored cover of children’s music acts (2008’s “Say Hey (I Love You)”) and that they’re touring as the opening act for Train this summer.
Grizzled fans of Michael Franti's formative punk rap (the Beatnigs, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy) may flinch to hear him rhyme "Like Jay Z, Beyoncé/Come be my fiancée" amid Flo Rida-style whistling on "I'm Alive (Life Sounds Like)." But Franti's peace 'n' love MO has veered toward full-on jam pop for several years now, so mainstream-y anthems like the Euro-disco title track are really no big leap. Well-crafted, unfailingly likable, the music hints at his activist-sage roots; check out the apocalypse-minded, Matrix-produced rap-along "11:59." For those who plan to go down dancing, he's a solid man to have on the mic. .