On July 30th 2013, Michael Franti and his band Spearhead returned with the follow-up to their 2010 album “The Sound Of Sunshine.” It was the second album which marked their return to their original recording company, Capitol Records. The album arrived a few days earlier on the Australian iTunes store but was quickly yanked before returning a whole year later to coincide with their appearance at the annual Blues & Roots Festival at Byron Bay. Perhaps somebody at their record label messed up. In the meantime, the CD was available for purchase in stores both as a Standard and a Deluxe Edition, with about four or five extra songs. After listening to the album a few times and letting it marinate, here’s what I had to say about “The Deluxe Edition” of “All People”:
All People (feat. Gina René): As a long-time Franti fan, this song initially let me down. It gave me the impression that he was trying to go after that Katy Perry cash as it has a house beat behind it. In some ways it’s not what you would expect from him, then again he’s experimented with that type of sound before with songs like “Love Invincible” and “Thank You.” Apart from that indeed it’s typical Franti, just celebrating life and unifying people in general, regardless of what their differences may be. It definitely works well within a live setting.
11:59: Michael Franti has definitely evolved a lot over the years and when you listen to this song, you can certainly hear that change in his style. Yes, he’s still saying that the world is messed up, or rather “the whole world’s sick,” but this time he’s not as angry as he used to be. Instead of raging against the machine, he’s now talking about getting together and uniting, so that we can fix the world. Hence, “That’s why so many people stand up and say, One love, one blood, one heart and only one rhythm.” He’s also talking about being thankful for the gift of life and what we’d all do if our last time on Earth were to arrive. That’s not to say the anger isn’t there anymore, it still sounds aggressive musically and he’s even rapping, which he hasn’t done in a while. At first I thought it was too sing-songy to be classified as Spearhead, as it begins with him playing a piano and singing the chorus but I eventually got used to it. The song was later re-recorded with a female singer by the name of Sonna Rele… no comment.
I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like): Up next is another dance song. This time around he’s more or less talking about wanting to be with his girlfriend, or rather how everybody wants him to be something he’s not, but when he’s with her, he can be himself. He draws comparisons to Yoko Ono and John Lennon and Ice-T and Koko. He name-checked Ice-T in 1994 on the first Spearhead album, but for a whole different reason: “They’re f***ing with Ice-T but they don’t even care if Eric Clapton’s singing “I Shot the Sheriff.” Funny how things turn around isn’t it? Despite the Prince reference, “This is what it sounds like….when doves cry….” Nah for real, he doesn’t reference Prince, but I never really cared for this song when I first heard it. Now I don’t mind it.
Long Ride Home: When you listen to Franti’s vocals on this track, it sounds a bit like he’s using a vocoder. If that’s what actually occurred, it’s definitely something different from him. For real this time. Damn. The chorus says, “One day closer till my number comes.” In that case he’s definitely talking about living life to the fullest…. and of course wanting to drive around with his woman so they can escape. It’s a love song in that case. No Franti album would be complete without the mention of his favourite herb. Except this time he’s not talking about legalising it, he’s reminiscing on watching hippies smoking it and young folks drinking forty ounces of beer. Interestingly, he no longer smokes weed now that he does Yoga. Thank God, those constant weed references were getting beyond a joke.
Life Is Better With You: Michael Folky and Spearhead. Is that the name of this band now? Nope he’s still Franti, despite the folky guitar riff in the intro to this song, which goes on for the first minute or so. Eventually the beat kicks in and the tempo increases. It’s almost like a drum and bass tune. Actually this song sounds bit like “Say Hey” from “All Rebel Rockers.” Damn! He’s caught the Cameo “Word Up” disease again. Anyways it’s yet another song about how great it is to be with his girl, or how life is better with her. He must be really in love with her in that case.
Earth From Outer Space (feat. K’naan): Essentially this song is about zooming through the sky in a rocket ship and looking down at the planet we’re all living on at the moment. Seeing all the people he knew personally, but then coming back to… who? It’s not specified. Speaking for myself, I was never really a fan of Canadian rapper K’naan, but this collaboration between Franti and Spearhead works perfectly. In fact there’s not really any rapping going on it’s mostly singing. “I like to see a planet every human staying human.” That album was released all the way back in 2001 but Franti is still all about staying human.
Closer To You: Franti is back with another house song about not wanting to be friends with his female companion, rather wanting to be in love with her. He’s addressing the fact that he’s been “through a storm,” or trials and tribulations if you like, so he’s seemingly asking her for forgiveness, “I’m down on my knees saying please baby please.” Is that a Spike Lee reference? Nah seriously, it’s not. I must say, it seems a bit repetitive at this point that he keeps going on about wanting to be with his girlfriend.
Gangsta Girl: If you know anything about Michael Franti, you would know that he’s a very big reggae fan. He’s always dabbled in the genre but he’s never gone all the way back to the roots. This time he’s done exactly that and he’s brought us an absolutely blazing SKA riddim. If this were the Franti of the ‘90s, I don’t think he would be saying things like, “She got a Gucci bag for her Chanel ghetto blaster” and “Please tell me that you’re single let your Tori Burch jingle.” I never thought I’d see the day where he would be name checking designer brands. I suppose now he can afford it for his woman, which is cool, he deserves a bit of recognition after all this time in the industry!
Show Me a Sign: Again this is another Franti song about how messed up the world is. Except this time he wants everybody to know that they don’t walk the streets alone and that we’re all there to help each other out. He’s talking about homeless people sleeping in newspapers that are filled with celebrity news… or should that be gossip? That sounds about right. He’s expressing himself differently, this time in the form of an acoustic pop tune, as opposed to an aggressive rap attack or an ear splitting rock tune.
I Don’t Wanna Go: Sounds like Franti was deliberately trying to provoke some kind of reaction with this song, which starts off with him saying: “I’m going to die! But it won’t be tonight,” so he’s going to go out and celebrate the gift of life, with lots of dancing, a few Tequila shots and of course, his girlfriend on his arm. Not to mention a “Reggae tronic boom box sonic” type of groove that he’s brought forth here. Good to see he’s still that reggae head.
Do It For the Love: Initially it was quite surprising to hear this song, as it was more or less a return to his rapping days. The only difference was that he spoke about his dreams of being a musician and how his adoptive mother would tell him to “do it for the love, not for the money.” And “If you’ve got beef with someone, let go of it.” Definitely some timely advice there from a short Finnish woman as he describes her. You may think this song is a bit corny if you’re a real hip hop head but nothing can be cornier than the whistling that occurs all the way through this track, which can also be heard on “I’m Alive.” It’s an otherwise solid tune.
Let It Go (feat. Ethan Tucker): Whenever you’re in one of those situations where something is bothering you and you feel like you need to get away from it all, just put on this song by Spearhead and drift away. Honestly, it’ll help you deal with it. That’s exactly what music does. Again it starts off quite folky, perhaps a bit country influenced, but then it goes off into a much more uptempo kind of tune where you just want to clap your hands and dance. Franti realises now that that’s what people want to hear, not songs about bombing the world to pieces or how messed up the prison guard system is. Seriously, he’s talked about this in interviews.
On and On: Quite a self explanatory song from Michael Franti. He’s reminiscing on both the good times and the bad: “Pops was home drinking, I was home dreaming.” Not the first time he’s talked about his father getting drunk. The bottom line though is that he’s now moving on from all of that. He asks, “Ain’t life like that?” Indeed it is. You have got to move on. And keep going. Stop dwelling. Exactly.
Wherever You Are: Another happy song about seeing somebody’s face and knowing that he feels at home with that person. Wherever they may be. I think it’s pretty safe to say Michael Franti is in love. And he’s all shook up. No he’s not he’s just happy now, not like he used to be all pissed off at the world. Didn’t I say that before? Yeah well he’s always saying it on this album isn’t he?
Say Goodbye: “I wasn’t born yesterday but I remember the way things used to be.” That’s what Franti says at the beginning of this song. He’s talking about sons going off to war, later not even being recognised by their own fathers. Perhaps one way of interpreting this is that he’s saying goodbye to all of those bad things that are going on in the world.. or is he saying goodbye in general? If you had the standard edition of the album, this song would have closed the set.
Life Is Better With You (Acoustic Mix): As I said earlier, this song starts off sounding a bit folky. What you get with the acoustic version is more of that type of sound, but you’re getting a few hand claps and finger snaps along with that. It is what it is, an acoustic version. More stripped back obviously than the original studio version. What I didn’t mention earlier is that his son Adé is featured as one of the backing vocalists. I wonder what he has to say about, “Clap your hands Adé Adé”?
Verdict: At first this sounded far too happy to be a true Spearhead album and I was initially quite disappointed, but overall it’s not as bad as it’s made out to be by other long time fans. If this is the way he wants to sound now, then so be it, we can’t expect our favourite artists to sound the way they always did. Change is natural and inevitable.