For curmudgeonly pessimists such as myself – or realists as we prefer to be called – Michael Franti’s relentless, upbeat, and insistent hopefulness can border on the grating. Sure, it’s pleasant for a time, its energy infectious, but then the shine wears off as we grow tired. Franti’s fans must either share his world view, or drift in and out as mood and stamina dictate. The latter case probably goes some way towards explaining the tendency for Franti’s popularity to wax and wane.
Soulrocker is album number nine from Franti and his backing band, Spearhead, and as always an intriguing musical eclecticism is on display. The usual hip-hop, funk, and rock elements are present, but Once A Day and We Do This Every Day demonstrate a distinct reggae streak, and EDM – with hints of dubstep – show up on tracks like We Are All Earthlings and Do You Feel The Way That I Do. My Lord starts off with an indie-rock vibe, which is bland and disappointing coming from Franti and Spearhead given the profusion of bands in that genre in recent years.
The sociopolitical rap of Good To Be Alive Today harks back to the pointed commentary of Franti’s earlier works, and slows the pace, acting almost as an intermission for the album – being track 7 of 13. As the title implies, Good To Be Alive Today carries a positive message, but only after pondering the problems of modern life, and the political ills of the globe. At 50 years of age, Franti is showing no signs of slowing down, and as always Spearhead prove themselves to be strong musicians.
Franti’s commitment to advocating sociopolitical change through music and the arts is laudable, as is his desire to focus on providing a positive message, it’s just that he’s not really pushing his boundaries anymore. There’s nothing new on Soulrocker, not really. A few new sounds, and different fusion of genre’s maybe, but it’s starting to feel like a watered down version of what came before. Perhaps that was inevitable, the tempering of youthful passion with age, but it is still a tad disappointing.