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Public Enemy - Nothing is Quick in the Desert (Album Review)

Thursday, 06 July 2017 Written by Jacob Brookman

Like many of the best pop groups, Public Enemy have a complex musical identity.

Chuck D’s lyrics are often polemical treatises on the nature of race relations and media misrepresentation in the US. He is a giant of African-American political discourse, whose particular brand of anarcho-syndicalism has preached a kind of militant tolerance over 30 years and 14 albums.

On the other side, you have Flavor Flav; a man known to younger audiences for his appearance on the VH1 reality show Flavor of Love, which saw female contestants compete to date the clock-wielding rapper.

While this duality has delivered consistently entertaining live performances, it has often led to profoundly uneven albums. ‘Nothing is Quick in the Desert’ is another.

The spine-tingling high point is a run of tracks starting with Beat Them All and ending with If You Can’t Join ‘Em Beat ‘Em. The three songs are mixed together, heightening a thrilling musical cocktail as riffs and samples dart in and out beguilingly. The effect is a hypnotically anarchic brew of lyrical flow and beats, which bolster the slightly stodgy hook of the first cut.

It takes the album towards to a kind of jazz-hip-hop happening and it's Public Enemy at their most politically aware, charged and creative. Much of the rest of the album suffers from dated production and patchy beats, though. While their contemporaries in A Tribe Called Quest gloriously updated their sound with 2016’s ‘We Got It From Here…’, ‘Nothing is Quick in the Desert’ languishes in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s.

So Be It is an uncomfortable dirge that sounds like a less groovy version of Rage Against the Machine’s Microphone Fiend (Chuck D has been touring with Rage members as Prophets of Rage), while Terrorwrist features a scratched sample of George W. Bush.

The latter factor suggests the track may have been sitting in a file on DJ Lord’s computer for the past 12 years, and given this album was initially released as a free download to celebrate the band’s 30th birthday, they are well within their rights if that is the case. Ultimately, taking this trip is definitely worth it for the highs, and the album closer Rest in Beats (Part 1 & 2) is a touching and poignant tribute to many of the musical stars who have been lost in the past few years.

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