When I pulled Deep Natural out of my homework bag and read “Twenty-eight track 2 CD Set, Two hours of music,” my first thought was, “My God, what did I do in my last life to deserve this?”
Totally unfair and uncalled for. Michelle Shocked is still doing her bit to use her platform to be a decent, upstanding, politically active human being, and should be applauded for doing so while the rest of us lazy fuckers should be sent to detention. The fold-out includes a Contract With The Planet — 1) Attack World Hunger and Poverty as if Our Life Depends on it: It Does. 2) Champion the Rights of every Child, Woman, Man., etc., etc. You can either resent this and file under prescriptive bullshit, or appreciate the genuine effort. All of her records are self-released, she controls her entire back catalog. For once, an artist is really putting their money where their mouth is, instead of tucking it safely into their back pocket where it need never be disturbed by the nonstop flow of ill-informed opinion.
About the album, then. This is written for modern gospelists, eco-warriors, and fans of Midwestern Womyn’s Music Festivals. Michelle Shocked fans will go for this in a big way; it does exactly what it says on the box. Beware the faint whiff of hemp trousers and organic alfalfa sprouts about the whole thing. Nothing as profound as Phil Ochs, as self-revealing as vintage Liz Phair, as angry feminista as vintage Hole, as witty or acute as Billy Bragg, as coruscating as … Wednesdays, really. This is a distinct brand of slightly jammy, slightly bluesy, slightly gospel-y, slightly world-music-y. Let’s just say slight and leave it at that.
There is no doubt that it’s all very sincere, very earnest. There is no question that her band is very competent, both on the first CD and on the “dub” CD (another fine moment for truth in advertising, if you will allow white university dub as a subgenre). There is no doubt that Shocked feels very, very strongly about some very, very important things. She has the voice and she has the platform, she has a desire to make the world a better place and she has a good grasp of her honest-to-pastoralia American roots.
I just wish she’d go into politics and leave the recording to the fuck-ups. The cool stuff always happens at the back of the class.
E-mail Shireen Liane at [email protected].