Public Enemy - Man Plans God Laughs

by Joseph Majsterski Rating:7 Release Date:2015-08-11

Public Enemy just keeps going. More than a quarter century after the group stormed onto the hardcore rap scene, they're still marching along, and it turns out, they've still got it. The group's newest release, Man Plans God Laughs, finds that sweet spot of sounding decidedly old school yet still fresh.

The short set, less than half an hour, starts out strong with the hard-hitting 'No Sympathy From the Devil', which is by far the most adventurous track in terms of sound, with a semi-glitchy electronic feel to it. Chuck D comes at the listener as a storied veteran who's seen it all, with lyrics like "Since when did you decide the truth should hide? You twenty, thirty, forty, I'm fifty-five." He even name-drops #BlackLivesMatter, with an unspoken, "We told you so."

Following up is the much friendlier 'Me to We', with a nice rolling rhythm and relatively bland lyrics, especially those by Flava Flav, who doesn't seem to contribute much vocally to the album. Things get stern again with the guitar-backed popping percussion of the title track, which is a bitter call-to-action, with Chuck D asking "Am I a radical, am I a pacifist, am I scared to fight, I ain't askin' you." The bitterness flows right into the next track, 'Give Peace a Damn', a very classic PE track that could have been on Fear of a Black Planet, and in fact, the very next song, 'Those Who Know, Know Who', starts out with a shoutout to that album with a semi-screwed refrain of "hear the drummer get wicked". 

The back half of the album does lose some steam, with 'Honky Talk Rules' sampling the old Rolling Stones track of a similar name to less than stellar effect. Chuck D just doesn't mesh with bluesy rock very well. And 'Lost in Space Music' does seem a bit lost, mostly a grab bag of old school rap effects that don't coalesce into anything much. Still, 'Earthizen' uses an alphabet rapping gimmick that actually works, backed by excellent funk and disco sampling, and other tracks towards the end like 'Praise the Loud' mix it up as well, bolstering the album nicely.

While short, Man Plans God Laughs is packed with ideas, most of which succeed, giving the set a legitimately solid feeling. Most of the tunes continue to grow on me. Long time fans will be thrilled, and anyone curious about what Public Enemy's up to these days should be impressed as well. There's just enough of old and new mixed together to make it worthwhile.

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