“The Revolution Starts Now” (Artemis Records) is not Steve Earle’s best work but it’s still pretty dang good. He threw it together in a hurry to get his message out during the 2004 presidential campaign and it serves the purpose well. Earle’s songs, like his politics, are not subtle.
A sense of betrayal runs through the songs on this disc. Most point out the senselessness of the war in Iraq and the dismal state of affairs here in the U.S. In particular, “Rich Man’s War” tells parallel tales of young people who are pawns in wars started by older powerbrokers who themselves are not at risk.
“Home to Houston” is the war in Iraq told from the point of view of a contract truckdriver – the chorus has him promising that if he ever gets home to Houston alive, he won’t drive a truck anymore. The upbeat music contrasts starkly with the bleak prayer of a man hoping to heck that he can survive.
“The Gringo’s Tale” is another tale of betrayal. It tells the story of a former covert operator, now on the run with a price on his head, betrayed by the very people he served. Readers of “Doghouse Roses,” Earle’s book of short stories published in 2002, will notice similarities between this gringo and a recurring character in the short stories.
“I Think You Should Know,” is one of only three apolitical songs on the disc and also one of the most sadly beautiful tunes in Earle’s catalog. The heartbroken narrator, incapable of falling in love but unable to resist the temptation, offers honesty to his prospective lover:
“If you’re thinkin’ ‘bout breakin’ my heart,
You might as well just pick up your little black dress and go.
Somebody else already tore it apart.
And I thought you should know.”
In interviews, Earle has expressed a fascination with Condoleezza Rice – he can’t fathom how this woman, obviously intelligent and raised during the sixties and seventies as he was, can have such a hardcore conservative viewpoint. He explores this obsession with a tongue-in-cheek love song: “Condi, Condi.” The lyrics are shockingly disrespectful but awfully funny as he pleads with Condi to “skank for me, Condi, show me what you got. They say you’re too uptight I say you’re not.” And he taunts her,
“Pretty little Condi,
Precious as can be.
Bet you never had
Another lover like me.”
The rocking “F The CC” is a scathing condemnation of the FCC, FBI, and the CIA. Of course, the frequent use of the “f-word” will not please the soccer moms nor the family values crowd but there is a strong message in it about the dangerous erosion of our freedoms over the past few years.
The title cut of this disc has got to grow on you. I had to see it live to get the full impact. The production of this song on the album is a little muddy but seeing him perform it live with just his guitar and his voice passionately snarling out the lyrics made me look at the song a whole new way. It’s a heartfelt appeal to all of us to look at what is happening in this country and to take action. And it gets its message across.
This CD is good solid Steve Earle with a heavy dose of politics. If you’re looking for something a little less political, check out El Corazon and I Feel Alright, two of his best albums. But if you can hack the politics, this one’s a keeper.