Various Artists

Rock Against Bush Vol. 1

In recruiting the Warped Tour's front lines, including the Offspring, Sum 41, Anti-Flag, and the Get Up Kids, San Francisco punk label Fat Wreck Chords presents a high-profile first volume in what is promised to be a series of Rock Against Bushcompilations. For the most part, the tracks here are unsurprisingly of the screaming, nasty, obnoxious, and liberal variety. Yet the exercise cuts deeper than you might expect.

While some of the songs clearly side with the album's vitriolic liner notes and slay Bush himself (most strongly Ministry's "No W" and Pennywise's "God Save the USA"), others treat him as more of an effect than a cause. By balancing the "fuck you"s with squalls of angst and brokenhearted romance, the compilers present a sweeping and smart take on the fear, uncertainty, and frustration that has brewed since the 9/11 attacks. Bush here isn't just a guy with provocative policies. To these artists, the man's mere existence takes on the weight of tragedy. Consequently, Denali's Americanized OK Computer-ish guitar fission on "Normal Days" makes Jello Biafra and D.O.A.'s anti-gentrification romp "That's Progress" and the Ataris' whiny acoustic demo "Heaven Is Falling" seem more profound -- way more -- than they would in isolation.

The album ends with "The Brightest Bulb Has Burned Out," a Less Than Jake tune featuring British folkie Billy Bragg on vocals. The two-minute song is a cry of hope for a friend who is "feeling more dead than alive," who is stuck "between the past and present tense." The singers could be reaching out to a disenfranchised voter, but for all we know, they could also be addressing Dubya himself. Perhaps the man deserves delivery from his administration's deep cynicism, and if we take the song as an olive branch to a fuck-up, then Rock Against Bush Vol. 1 closes as the most surprisingly human protest album in quite some time.

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