Public Enemy - Evil Empire of Everything - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Public Enemy - Evil Empire of Everything

by Daryl Worthington Rating:7.5 Release Date:2012-11-12

The new Public Enemy album begins with a haunting sound collage. A caller to a police dispatch describing a suspicious person wandering the streets, played over an eerie loop of female singers. I'm unsure whether this sample is actually taken from the call made by George Zimmerman the fateful night he shot Trayvon Martin, or a duplicate, but it's a startling introduction to Public Enemy's second album of the year, Evil Empire of Everything. Compared to Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamp, this is a darker, bitter album, despairing, as Chuck D roars in track two, at "The pain and all the lies, and the pain in all the lives".

The fixation with Trayvon Martin continues throughout the album. Track five, 'Beyond Trayvon', begins with a news report of the events. The track is built on a sinister sounding funk groove; the guitars and keys have been warped and manipulated to make something demented and unrecognisable. Spooky spoken samples of "Shotgun, automatic handgun" are interspersed between the lyrics, adding to the eerie feel of the track. Lyrically, it argues that the death of Trayvon, rather than being a tragic exception, is symptomatic of continuing racial prejudices throughout society, that these 'confessions of a homicidal hitman' are not unique.

The album's sixth track, 'Everything', is something quite unexpected from Public Enemy. Featuring the vocals of Gerald Albright and Sheila Brody, it comes across like a 70s soul track, with its swinging brass and lazy groove. There's even a saxophone solo at the end. The song itself is an amusing attack on the hollow rewards for commercial success: "Got no million follower friends on Twitter".

This criticism of the corruption of art through commercialisation is found elsewhere on the album, for example the loop at the end of '1 (PEace)': "I remember hip hop when hip hop was hip hop". 'Everything's sweet, almost retro arrangement seems like the logical conclusion of this, longing for a time where music was made purely for the release of making music.

Public Enemy albums always end spectacularly, for example, their classic Fear of a Black Planet finished with one of their best singles, 'Fight The Power'. Evil Empire... closes with the mighty 'Say It Like It Really Is'. The production on the track sounds somewhere between rabble-rousing punk and gospel choir. Like 'WTF' on Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamp, it serves to bring all the themes of the album together, to give all of the previous tracks a unified narrative, almost like the concluding paragraph of an essay.

In this sense, the title of the track is apt. This is an album about perceptions. Public Enemy argue that the unarmed Trayvon Martin was killed due to George Zimmerman perceiving him as a threat. The perception that commercial gain is the prime motivation of creating music is damaging the quality of artistic output. And the failure to perceive injustices in the world (whether political, economic or social) prevents change being effected. The achievement of this track, like the rest of the album, is to condense such weighty themes into such concise, fun, riotous music.

Evil Empire... suffers from having been released so soon after Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamp in that it doesn't quite reach the heights achieved on that album. The tracks aren't quite as consistent in quality, and it doesn't seem to hang together as well conceptually. However, taken alongside the rest of the group's back catalogue, it is another testament to Public Enemy's continuing ability to create relevant, confrontational music which is also exciting to listen to.

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