Occupy This Album: 99 Songs for the 99 Percent

Occupy This AlbumVarious Artists
Occupy This Album
Music for Occupy

Like the ’60s-era social movements that inspired the performers at Woodstock, the Occupy movement has proved an irresistible draw to musicians. Dropping in on Zuccotti Park last fall was a who’s who of socially conscious music luminaries from Russell Simmons and Kanye West to Rufus Wainwright and Sean Lennon. They came out to inspire the protesters with their music or celebrity, but the inspiration apparently works both ways—judging, at least, from this new box set featuring 99 songs by A-list performers from Willie Nelson to Ladytron to Thievery Corporation.

Though many of the songs were recorded before last fall, others dwell directly on Occupy Wall Street. They don’t always succeed, but an Occupy-themed track by Third Eye Blind, “If There Ever Was A Time,” is a gem. (Listen below.) Over a typically catchy hook, front man Stephan Jenkins proclaims:

If there ever way a time, it would be now, that’s all I’m sayin’
If there ever was a time to get on your feet and take it to the street
Because you’re the one that’s getting played right now by the game they’re playin’
So come on, meet me down at Zuccotti Park

Like Zuccotti Park last fall, with its mashup of sometimes discordant messages, the wide mix of sounds on Occupy This Album can sometimes make your head spin. On Disc 2, for instance you’ll hear a punk-rock song by Anti-Flag followed by a reggae jam followed by a ditty by Jill Sobule that wouldn’t be out of place on the soundtrack to Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

But what the album lacks in musical cohesion, it makes up in star power. Other big names range from Ani DiFranco and Joan Baez to Tom Morello and Girls Against Boys. Michael Moore even sings a Dylan song. (Tomato-meter: Rotten). Though the quality of the tracks is uneven—Yo La Tengo’s offering sounds like it was recorded by a dying horse in a glue factory—there are still enough knee-slappers to occupy your iPod for an hour or two.

Not everything here is necessarily protest music, and that’s probably a good thing. “Hell No, I’m Not Alright,” by Nanci Griffith, sounds like a complaint to a deadbeat ex-boyfriend, though I suppose you could also interpret it as a complaint to a deadbeat mortgage lender.

As is usually the case these days, the best protest political songs come from rappers. In “Rich Man’s World,” Immortal Technique takes on the persona of a heartless billionaire with bone-chilling convincingness. And in the fantastic “New York Minute,” the rapper Nickodemus coins perhaps the best two lines of Occupy This Album:

While the City sleeps, I’m reading Wikileaks
Creating picket signs. Go ahead, pick a street!
 

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