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Desaparecidos - Payola (Album Review)

Tuesday, 23 June 2015 Written by Huw Baines

The best protest songs engage on both intellectual and physical levels. They are calls to action in both form and meaning. Desaparecidos, 13 years on from the release of ‘Read Music/Speak Spanish’, have taken that idea to heart on ‘Payola’, which is unfailingly direct and invigorating.

“The ‘60s proved that change is hit or miss,” Conor Oberst sings on the opener, The Left Is Right. It’s an apt sentiment given the band’s lengthy absence, because the last decade hasn’t been kind. Much like D’Angelo’s long-gestating ‘Black Messiah’, ‘Payola’ emerges into a world where its themes - institutionalised racism, myriad cash-grabbing corporations, protest movements - are depressingly relevant.

Laura Jane Grace jumps on the ferociously catchy Golden Parachutes, combining with Oberst to shout down a “locker room of CFOs, telling racist jokes”, while Cursive’s Tim Kasher adds his two cents to City On The Hill, with “bodies stacked like hundred dollar bills”.

But the real power here derives from the band, who deliver each missive with fire and unerring accuracy. Oberst hasn’t sounded this vital in years, while Ian McElroy’s keys trade blows with a multi-tracked storm of guitars. Every chorus gets under the skin.

The string of singles released by the band in recent years, including the standout MariKKKopa and Backsell, are worked into the running order here and come up against material of similar power and quality. If Desaparecidos’ politics are still prescient, their complete lack of ring rust ensures that the sentiments resonate.

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