Y’know what’s funny about Steve Earle? He totally lived his life stages in reverse. He started off as a country singer, singin’ about being a “good ol’ boy” and finding jobs and being a hillbilly, then his addiction stage was in the middle as it should be, and then being a young-sounding radical, raging against government and war. It’s cute.
So yeah, this album is at heart an anti-war, anti-Bush album, regrettably released to influence voters in 2004, not effectively enough. So the anti-war songs, good as they generally are, are rather quaint and sad in retrospect. Not bad, again, just…a little pathetic and weak with the benefit of hindsight and a few years. But this is motherfucking Steve Earle, and he doesn’t let that ruin the album. The best parts are the parts where the self-awareness kicks in and stops things from being taken too seriously. The best two are just moments, first where the over-the-top line “the revolution starts…Now!” segues into the rockabilly truck driver song “Home to Houston”. It’s quite awesome. And then the reggae-ish ditty “Condi, Condi,” instead of a polemic is a tongue-in-cheek song of desire for everyone’s favourite former chief of staff (as in “oh Condi Condi / precious as can be / Bet you never had another lover like me”). There’s even a boring generic love song near the end, like every one of Steve’s collections of melodywords. Really keeps things from getting too sad and keeps the album together.
So yeah, the anti-war songs, “Rich Man’s War,” with its equivalence of American and Muslim soldiers, and the surprisingly ass-eating spoken word song “Warrior” and the two nearly identical iterations of the title track don’t hold up to time, but they’re held together by the growing songs “The Seeker” and duet “Comin’ Around.” Plus there’s a patriotic (!) punk (!!) song “F the CC” (as in “Fuck the FCC / Fuck the FBI / Fuck the CIA / I’m living in the mother fucking USA”) to surprise my expectations by not being too much of a “statement.” Steve wanted to influence the election, sure, but it doesn’t come at the cost of the album, something too many singer-songwriters couldn’t boast.
So don’t view this for what it was, view it for what it is now. The revolution did not start then, but we can get some good songs out of it. There’s artistic growth and a sense of humour in this. Grandeur in this view of life and such. Viva Earle!