“Irony is dead / It’s so motherfucking dead / I was there by it’s death bed / and the last words that he said / were whiiiiiite boooooy,” reads a lyric on Sage Francis’ new LP, Human The Death Dance. The irony that Sage speaks of is indeed dead, that being the fact that when Sage cut teeth as a rapper in the 80′s and early 90′s, it was indeed backwards that he was a “white boy” winning rap battles in Metallica t-shirts. Here was a kid, a student of Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions, making what black folks at the time considered “real hip-hop”. But now, Sage’s music is looked at as “more rock, than rap” (to quote a recent Scratch Magazine review), despite the fact that he’s paid more dues and is better schooled in the history of the art form than many of the current hip-hop acts (and critics) of today. But irony is dead. It doesn’t matter.
Hence, Human The Death Dance, the third official solo record from Sage Francis. His history thus far is chronicled on the album’s opening song, “Underground For Dummies”, an almost disclaimer that sets the album up, preaching “this is real hip-hop for the people / stop calling it ‘emo’.” Sage’s straight-forward style here gets his point across bluntly, while Odd Nosdam’s lo-fi boom-bap backs his vocals. With that out of the way, Sage really begins to flex his poetical prowess, on songs like “Civil Obedience”, an almost “ode to invincibility”, where an unstoppable Sage refuses to give up, despite whatever obstacles get in his way, over a rainy, Endtroducing-esque track. “Got Up This Morning” is a wonderfully executed, bluesy head-nodder featuring the vocals of Jodie Holland, while Sage recounts a tale of doomed relationship.
Continuing to change styles like the weather, the Mark Isham produced “Good Fashion” follows, a heavily orchestrated song that doesn’t follow conventional hip-hop production (read: drums), as Sage explains how sunglasses close the windows to the soul. This beautifully blends into the brilliantly penned “Clickity Clack”, which finds Sage delivering a dark tale of muuuurderrrr with an almost Edgar Allen Poe inspired cadence. Sage then brings things back down to earth on “Midgets and Giants”, where Sage gets his straight forward style back on, letting loose on all of the annoyances of the music industry - both big and small. And then…. “Broccilude”.
Later comes perhaps the album’s most powerful song, “Waterline”, another cinematic Mark Isham produced track, as Sage parallels the Hurricane Katrina disaster to the mistakes humans make while the situation continues to get worse. Sage’s point here seems to be that the blame should not solely be placed on the city of New Orleans for not reinforcing the levies after countless warnings; nor should it be placed solely on the Bush Administration for its lax response and poor clean-up of the situation. Instead, the blame goes to human error in general, and how many of us shift blame instead of actually doing anything to change the situation, while the water level rises higher and higher. Katrina is only a symbol here, as the song’s subject matter could be applied to anything.
There is much more to Human The Death Dance than just this, as these are many of the album’s highlights. An acquired taste, as usual, Sage does at times get a bit too introverted on songs like “Hell of A Year” and “Going Back To Rehab”, which are less literal than you’d expect, sometimes excluding the listener from their intent. Another flaw that might bother people with the record is that it shifts in many different styles, sounds, and subjects – unlike say, Personal Journals, which was a more defined LP for Sage. Regardless, Human The Death Dance is another solid LP from Sage Francis: the “more rock than rap” artist. And irony is so motherfucking dead.
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