Having waited over a year for a third of these songs to be recorded and released after hearing Franti perform them during SunFest 2012, I was more than excited to hear what this new album would sound like; it's pretty amazing. It's stuffed full of that universal love and peace that is so central to Michael Franti & Spearhead's music, but still contains some of the undercurrents of his earlier sounds in lines like "I can't afford the rent or remember checks I sent to pay off all my taxes and feed the president" (reminiscent of his Disposable Heroes work from "I'm Alive (Life Sounds Like)") and "I keep hearing more and more that they're shooting teenagers in the street, sending children off to war, turned into fathers, their children never meet" (aligning with the Yell Fire! messages from "Say Goodbye"). As always, his lyrics are so much more meaningful than his radio hits suggest and his composition is damn near perfect; after some preliminary listens I already know that this new album will be my personal playlist for the next month or so.
The album starts with "All People", a reggae rock song with some electronic beats mixed in and featuring some vocals from Gina Rene. It doesn't take long before the song picks up (about a minute) and sets the mood for the rest of the album. With a chant worthy refrain and a beat made for dancing, it's impossible to listen to this without getting excited for the rest of the songs on this album.
"11:59" takes a step back from the upbeat dance sounds and drifts into an anthem for the current divisive state of the world which wars against people's intrinsic need to be together and a part of something. With lines like "life's a chord plugged in, the whole world's sick. Got diseases excited, they crawled up inside us. Superstupiditis, philosophies that divide us", "one love, one blood, one heart, one soul and, one drum and only one rhythm, one track and all of us singing", and "I wanna rock with you 'til the day I die" all intersecting, Franti attempts to explain the complexities of the 'human experience' in one four minute song.
It picks back up again with the first single released from the album, "I'm Alive (Life Sounds Like)", that begs to be danced to and played at ridiculously loud volumes the next time you're in the car with friends. With that recurring line that states "I only wanna be with you", the song keeps itself lighthearted and sweet with a beat, a chorus of "oh's", and a simple whistling melody that only serves to make you feel invincible (or 'alive' as I'm sure the track was going for).
"Long Ride Home" uses Franti's deep, full voice to create a base for the track, relying only on a soft beat and a minimal amount of instrumentation to move the song along. With lyrics that maintain a stream of consciousness-esque feeling, the song manages to evoke all the feelings of having been away from home for a long time (meaning both the excitement and adventure of leaving and experiencing new things, mixed with the tinge of sadness that comes with missing those things that make home home) and, by the time the song picks up at 2:30, Franti's already managed to express both sides of being gone.
"Life Is Better With You" is adorable. With a soft violin playing throughout the song and lines like "tell me what you want, I'll give you all that you need, with my heart in my hand saying 'please, baby please', because nobody does that thing you do better than you" and "some thoughts still swimming around in my head, of all the words that we ever said, my favorite's from me 'I love you'" it's impossible not to smile and the simple strumming that plays along with the refrain, "some days are better than others, but these days life is better with you" makes the song undeniably sweet.
"Earth From Outer Space" shows Franti's passion for pointing out that everyone is connected and that love is a universal emotion, while pointing out the complexities and simplicity of life with lines like "selling in the market places, dancing everywhere, would I see the ladies in the beauty parlor doing hair, and teenage soldiers with their guns up in the air, would I see a hit list of the species that are gone, or would I be a witness to the world dropping bombs, would I see the rainforest, Amazon, or would the whole world sing one song" and still manages to throw in a refrain about love, with "no matter where I go, I still come back to you".
"Closer to You" has an indie rock feel to it's intro and softly falls into a drum beat and a melody that swirls around the lyrics, only making the simple repetition of a line like "I don't wanna be your friend no more, I only wanna be your love... because I feel close to god when I'm closer to you" seem that much better as it weaves in and out of changing beats, adding only a few new lyric lines along the way. The lyrics are simple, but the composition gets the point across.
"Gangsta Girl" has the same reggae sound that was so prevalent on All Rebel Rockers and a good portion of The Sound of Sunshine and allows the listener to hear some of Franti's earlier sound, but with the type of lyrics he has only recently begun to gravitate towards, at the same time giving them a break from his songs that work to get across a wider (or deeper) message, before delving into "Show Me A Sign" which falls back on soft reggae rock and combines Franti's penchant for seamlessly mixing his political commentary with lyrics that continue to make a case for love.
"I Don't Wanna Go" slips back into that strong reggae beat that features a ragtime-y piano urgency with a refrain as cute as "I don't wanna go nowhere, unless I'm going with you" and the inclusion of a perfectly timed vocal chorus, something Franti has mastered over his last few albums.
"Do It For The Love" is just good. With a refrain that states "do it for the love, not for the money, not for the guns and not for the honeys, do it 'cause it makes you feel alive, do it for the love of it, do it for the smell of it, do it for the joy and the taste and the hell of it" and a fade out where Franti states "don't do it 'cause they told ya, don't do it 'cause they scold ya" I can't help but love the song and respect him even more than I already do.
"Let It Go" is gorgeous with a soft, steady beat, a simple guitar strumming pattern, a piano that chimes in at just the right moment, and (so many great) lines like "hey there broken daughter don't you know... we'll get you to the place to heal your soul", "don't let nobody tell you that you shouldn't be just who you are... listen to me my friend when I say that you're always in my heart, and though the days are dark sometimes you'll always be my shining star", and "if all the things that you stood for were burned to ashes at your door, would you stay and try some more? And what if all the love you gave was staring at you from the grave, would it make your heart explode" I absolutely adore this song (it makes me want to cry a little, but I love it completely). With a constant reminder to "just let it go, let your heart just go" I can't get over the absolutely beautiful perfection of this song.
"On and On" combines Franti's ever constant reggae rhythm with some down to earth lyrics and a bit of an alternative rock feel, creating something that only Franti & Spearhead could pull off. Stating that life is constantly moving forward and you can't go back, he manages to mention the memories in good light, making it sound more optimistic and less retrospective than most songs with this message do.
"Wherever You Are" carries on with the sweet lyrics and slowly swelling melodies heard in so many of his other songs, with a refrain that states "when I see your face, the whole world's erased and I know this place is my home... when you stare into the stars, you can be whoever you are, wherever you are" and a simple clapping back beat. It's sweet and simple.
"Say Goodbye" closes the album by heading back to some of the political commentary and rebel rock beat that was so central to Franti's musical beginnings. The emotion in his voice is heard clearly as he opens the song with "I wasn't born yesterday, but I remember, the way things used to be, I know that it was never perfect but we did not have the problems that we see, tell me why, what is the reason good people have to die" before he turns to lyrics (stated previously in the post) meant to make a mark that state "I keep hearing more and more that they're shooting teenagers in the street, sending children off to war, turned into fathers, their children never meet" and "I wish that I could lie, because a mother shouldn't have to say goodbye". It's a bittersweet song and makes a great ending to the album as a whole but, in contrast to songs like "Life Is Better With You" and "I'm Alive (Life Sounds Like)" it sounds an awful lot darker than it is.
With the inclusion of soft piano melodies, backing violins, songs that relied heavily on vocal chorus' to carry them forward, and the welcome (albeit, thankfully, slight) return of those 'politically charged' lyrics that we had a break from on the last album, Michael Franti & Spearhead's latest album, All People, manages to come out with a gorgeously upgraded sound and beautifully uplifting songs that work to point out problems in the world while maintaining the focus on, and need for, universal love. It's a weird mixture, but this group always pulls it off seamlessly, and I love them for it.