Although it's been a LONG time (approximatly 4 1/2 years) since their last album, 2001's Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes
, most Propagandhi fans, such as myself, are used to waiting for long periods of time between albums anyways. But as any fan also knows, Propagandhi is one of those bands that is instant quality with any release. Very few bands can successfully re-invent themselves even once in a career; Propagandhi does it with every album. From the SoCal punk stylings of 1993 and 1996's How To Clean Everything
and Less Talk, More Rock
to the 2001 thrash-metal/hardcore masterpiece Today's Empires
, and now with 2005's Potemkin City Limits
, Propagandhi continues to impress with their diverse sound, amazing technicality, and pure songwriting genious.
If you're not aware of it yet, Propagandhi is FIERCELY left-wing, anarchistic, anti-capitalist, pro-gay rights, pro-vegan, pro-animal rights, pro-feminist... you get the picture. If you are sensitive with politics, or believe even for a second the stories that our media tells us regarding our country, our President, and the War On Terror, you will probably find Propagandhi to be the most offensive band you've ever listened to. They make System's and RATM's lyrics look downright normal, for comparison purposes. These guys have BALLS, and they ain't afraid to let them swing to and 'fro.
combines the prog-thrash breakdowns and abstract song structures of TETA
with a more straight-forward punk rock/hardcore sound that is very reminiscent of their older work from the mid-'90s. Although not as balls-to-the-wall as TETA
and less guitar-heavy, most of the songs on PCL
are long (by punk rock standards), involving, and intricate, combining break-neck tempos with slow free-time jams, blistering lead guitar work, incredible basslines, awe-inspiring drumming, and in general, absolutely superb musicianship. I know this may sound like exagerration, but you probably won't hear many thrash/punk bands in your lifetime that can play as well as Propagandhi. The fact that Chris plays such difficult rhythmic inversions/progressions WHILE pulling out seriously impressive lead chops WHILE singing his wordy, rapid-fire polemics is quite a feat.
On to the album, Potemkin
picks up business with the first track, "A Speculative Fiction". Fast, raging, and intense as hell, complete with some seriously bad-ass riffage and an almost Tom Morello-ish, riff-driven breakdown, this is probably my favorite track off the album. Lyrically, it seems to be about a fictional impending war between Canada and the US ("A new iron curtain drawn across/the 49th parallel/cut all dipolmatic ties as we expel/all our American dignitaries and issue a nationwide/travel advisory for any other left inside"), all with tongue firmly-in-cheek at the same time ("Your stupid fukking laser-pucks were just the start"). Incredible opener for sure.
Another more interesting track that drops off of Propagandhi's typical path is the 7/8 (I think) groove-oriented, proggy, Todd-sung
(yes, he sings now) "Cut Into The Earth". Almost spoken-word at times, Todd proves he's as capable a singer as Chris, and far more often than on [i]TETA[/] steps up as frontman on other tracks like "Bringer Of Greater Things", a punkish mid-tempo number with extremely catchy, sublime rhythm work and riffs, as well as "Life At Disconnect". His basslines have also improved tremndously, which were already great on Empires
. Some old TETA
-style "Todd"core numbers - "Impending Halfhead" and "Superbowl Patriot XXXVI" - remain here, and are truthfully the most reminiscient of Prop's 2001 opus. Most of the album is in general a little slower and more experimental - which is a testament to their versatility, as the mid-tempo songs are exceptionally well done, most tellingly on the aforementioned "Cut Into The Earth".
Another standout is the US Army-bashing "Die Jugend Marshiert", which starts off with what seems to be a Hitler Youth march, singing "die jugend marschert". It sets a tone for the song to follow, a well-aimed cruise missle of invective at our military and their less-than-admirable recruiting policies, all delivered as if giving an oration to a crowd by the military personnel (http://www.propagandhi.com/lyrics/potemkin.php - sorry couldn't copy & paste). It's masterfully done, and the absolutely ripping solo (played while singing no less) and tension-building bridge part doesn't hurt either.
But I'd be remiss if I didn't do a shout-out for "Rock For Sustainable Capitalism", Hannah's own direct shot at, of all people, Fat Mike (bassist/frontman of NOFX and owner of Fat Wreck Chords, Propagandhi's American label). Ripping into the whole PunkVoter/Rock Against Bush movement as well as the Vans Warped Tour and its business practices, Chris deftly calls attention to Fatty's handshake with John Kerry (pictured above the lyrics in the booklet) as a focal point to slam against his "lesser of two evils" willingness to replace Bush with a Democrat that in reality wasn't much, if at all, different than Bush.
"I fukkin' love that one rock video where/that fukking fat-ass mohawked millionaire prances around by far the worst sausage-party alive/
Where by mere chance he's caught on film, shaking hands/With an incredibly diverse selection of patriotic skins - I love the message it sends... (fukking goof)/With A Rebel Yell (TM), Just Do Exactly What You're Told/One million douchebags can't be wrong!"
There's a snip of it, but trust me, it gets better. Fat Mike's hypocritical "When did punk rock become so safe"" line from The War On Errorism
gets borrowed here, along with a poignant, withering comment directed at his boss: "Well you'll excuse me when I laugh in your face while I itemize your reciepts/and Powerpoint your balance sheets", backed up by some wildly over-the-top, 80's back-up vox from Tae-bo Todd. And truth be told, it's pretty hard to argue against NOFX's potty-joke, melodic influence on the current crop of marginally-talented pop-punk bands cluttering the mainstream.
He then slams the Vans Warped Tour with equal viciousness. "I hear this year than Vans Warped Tour's going 'green'/I guess they heard that money grows on trees, well/Let's ship their sh!tty bands overseas, LIKE THEY DID THEIR FACTORIES!" The song never lets up, next lamenting the current homogenization of the music they still love. The bridge part of the song, where the guitars drop down to barely audible over the punk beat, leads into a truly epic-sounding riff/verse combo. One of the best moments of the album.
Other standouts are the outro track, "Iteration", a recounting of U.S. Secretary Of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's fictional war crimes trial, from Rummy's point of view. Full of different movements and bridge sections, as well as a truly huge-sounding outro (complete with obligatory "Purina Hall Of Fame"-style shred solo) that caps off a new classic in the making.
In short, Potemkin City Limits
expands on Propagandhi's already-diverse sound with more mid-tempo, experimental tracks like "Cut Into The Earth" and "Bringer Of Greater Things". Todd has really stepped up on this disc, more than Jord or Chris (who at times are a bit more restrained than on Empires
) to truly complete the ultimate singing/songwriting team in punk rock. As I've read in some interviews, Todd is slowly becoming the driving force behind Prop's musical direction, as Chris Hannah seems to finally be tiring of the musical life (he's stated that it's not his "life", and he kinda fell into it). But for now, Potemkin
succeeds where TETA
faltered slightly - it's Propagandhi's strongest album musically, bringing together the old-school sound with Prop's newer metal/prog tendencies. See you in five years, guys.
STANDOUT TRACKS: A Speculative Fiction, Die Jugend Marshiert, Rock For Sustainable Capitalism, Cut Into The Earth, Iteration