MICHAEL FRANTI and SPEARHEAD; Stay Human 2 (Thirty Tigers)

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Michael Franti and his colleagues in Spearhead have never been backward in coming forward to air their views and ideas on society, politics, the economy, injustices and anything else that takes their fancy…. and the team’s new album – a second volume of ‘Stay Human’ – continues that trajectory. This time, though, there is a subtle difference. The 14 track LP is a tie-in to a film – unsurprisingly called ‘Stay Human’. Franti tells us that the movie tells the stories of heroic everyday people who helped him to discover more deeply what it means to be and “Stay Human”. We can’t speak for the film; it’s not premiered till next week but we can say that if it’s half as good as this provocative, yet optimistic album, then it’s the first must see movie of 2019!

The music on ‘Stay Human 2’ is stuffed with familiar Franti themes, but as ever he manages to avoid being heavily didactic, holier-than-thou and pessimistic. Rather the music is largely upbeat and despite the messages, it manages to be optimistic. There are a number of key note tracks that sort of sum up the overall message of the album. One is the breezy ‘This World Is So Fucked Up’. Here, the singer/songwriter wishes he could express things more subtly but he can’t; he gets straight to the point… “We’re fucked!” The coda, though, is that he’s never going to give up… he knows that with the right approach things can get better! The album title track explores similar themes. “When I was a boy my mama told me this world isn’t always a paradise” is how the song begins… but again the point is don’t give-up… stay being what is essentially “human”. Part of staying human is supporting others; helping those who need help, love and sympathy. That message is hammered home on the sweet ‘Nobody Cries Alone’.

Musically Franti and Spearhead wrap their messages in a variety of flavours. Many of the cuts have a rocking Caribbean flavour – like the ‘Just To Say I Love You’, while ‘The Only Thing Missing Is You’ is a gorgeous reggae/lovers rock item – reminiscent of those great old Aswad tunes. Best straight soul tune is ‘Show Me Your Peace Sign’ – a lovely ballad. Elsewhere ‘Take Me Alive’ is a polished slice of indie rock, ‘When The Sun Begins To Shine’ is country rock with a hint of blues while ‘Summertime Won’t Last Long’ is a catchy, Bob Marley name-checking slab of optimism and this is where ‘Stay Human 2’ wins… despite the messages and seriousness of the issues, there is an undertow that says we can get there, we can achieve anything if we stay human!.

‘Stay Human 2’ will not be officially available till 15 February; pre-orders, though, are being taken and come with instant downloads of the tracks ‘Just To Say I Love You,’ ‘Stay Human 2’ and ‘Flower In The Gun’. And remember, Franti practises what he preaches… this album is part of his ongoing community work- notably his foundation. With his wife, Sara, Franti works to improve the quality of life for veterans, disadvantaged children and those with terminal illnesses.

(BB) 4/5