Remember all the hand-wringing last year over the so-called disappearance of protest music? As the Occupy movement hit its peak, capturing the attention of the country, commentators and older musicians were accusing contemporary artists of failing to grapple with the major struggles of their time in song.
The accusation was dumb — any Google-savvy person looking for new protest music shouldn't have much trouble finding it — but it was also revealing. Protest music hasn't had a prominent place in our pop landscape, but that may be because it's often more satisfying to make than to listen to. It feels great to sit down with an acoustic guitar and sing your indictment to the Man, but good luck finding lots of people who want to listen to that, much less pay you for it. And as a general rule, songs filled with positive-minded cliches about widely agreed-upon political and social principles (the worst caricature of protest music, but still a valid description of lots of it) tend not to be very interesting.
Today's Occupy This Album — a 99-track omnibus of protest songs from unheard-of drum circle members to Joan Baez to Thee Oh Sees — illustrates this perfectly. Like the movement itself, Occupy This Album is sprawling, inconsistent, occasionally deluded, and sometimes devastatingly incisive.