Various Artists, "Occupy This Album" (Music for Occupy)
An opus of 99 songs for $9.99 claiming to speak for the 99 percent, "Occupy This Album" is fortified with polemic and rhetoric in its titles alone: "Take a Stand," "We Stand as One," "Hell No (I'm Not Alright)," "We're the 99," "Fight the Good Fight," "People Have the Power." It's not all bombast and barricades, though. As diverse as the movement itself, this four-CD set is a sprawling, sometimes silly and sometimes satisfying set that -- while not offering much in the way of chart-topping, paradigm-shifting populism -- at least offers up a few answers to those asking, "Where's all the protest music?"
Meandering between reggae, country, hard rock, world music and the requisite acoustic guitars, "Occupy This Album" -- cobbled together by Music for Occupy, a group claiming to be "in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street" -- serves up a few hits and a lot of misses, much like the equally ambitious, four-CD Bob Dylan tribute released earlier this year.
Many of the hits are in that traditional American protest vein, acoustic-based gems like the earnest but energetic opener "Something's Got to Give" by Matt Pless. To really make a mark with didactic music, though, it helps to have a sense of humor, and two of the sharpest tacks in this shed are hammered home by Loudon Wainwright III, whose "The Panic Is On" rambles and hoots like the days when he was a genuine New Dylan, and the sweet-and-salty mix of Jill Sobule & John Doe gleefully singing about their new home together "Under the Bridge." Showing a remarkable lack of humor, Jackson Browne states his case well in "Come On, Come On, Come On" but does so in a track that is musically dull, dull, dull; meanwhile, filmmaker Michael Moore delivers the most pious, prayerful and ridiculous version of "The Times They Are A-Changin'" you'll ever hear. He sounds like a depressed Father Mulcahy ("M*A*S*H").
Keepers include the Flying Lizards-esque spoken dissonance of Deborah Harry's "Safety in Numbers," Willie Nelson's spaghetti-Western theme ("A Peaceful Solution"), the waste-no-time death metal assault of Danger Field's "Staying Out and Calling In," and, on the expanded edition, "Occupie," the far-out, Mose Allison jazz piano of the ever-iconoclastic David Amram ("It's time to occupy more than your mind").
Numerous tracks were rounded up from other projects for the occasion, such as last year's Yoko Ono dance-music chart-topper, "Move On Fast," or Lloyd Cole's "The Young Idealists," a fantastic song that seemed oddly topical on his 2006 "Antidepressant" album but slots snugly into the theme here.
In the end, it's no "No Nukes," and like Zuccotti Park in mid-December it's littered with a lot of garbage. But it does capture these first glimmers of what could develop into another wave of American musical protest, and it leaves us with just one remaining question: What, Tracy Chapman was unavailable?