It’s been four years since we’ve heard an album from Sage Francis, with 2010′s Li(f)e for indie rock imprint Epitaph. The album fused Sage’s heavy poetics with live instrumentation, including collaborations with members of Death Cab For Cutie and French composer Yann Tierson, among other standout moments. Between that and being an album with a heavy, anti-religious message, Sage may have scared some folks off with his last record, despite what our reviewer called perhaps “the best LP of Sage’s career”. However that honor may now be going to his new album, Copper Gone. Constantly improving is never a bad thing.
Appropriately, the album begins with a wayward soul crying out to Sage, “where have you beeeeeeen”, before he comes bursting through the door on the abrasive “Pressure Cooker”. It’s the only real “rock driven” cut on the album (at least in a Rick Rubin sense), and is a perfect segway from the end of Li(f)e‘s symphonic “The Best Of Times”. Sage is back, ladies and gentlemen.
It’s nice to see him letting the tiger out the cage during this album’s first half, as songs like “ID Thieves” and “Cheat Code” bring him back to his boom-bap, battle rap foundations, yet maintaining his self-depreciating sense of humor. No man is safe, as a frustrated Sage spits vitriol towards this generation’s young emcees and new Hammers, with reckless abandon. Names aren’t called out, but several lines raise eyebrows in an if-the-shoe-fits-type-of-way:
“Why you think I let you get away with doing radio-friendly versions of what I do? / Like I wouldn’t chide you, out perform, out write, and out rhyme you / Outsmart, out heart, and out grind you / Out shine you with the torch that was given to me / Torches and I’ll pass it to bastards of the little league / If rap was a game you’d be M.V.P/ Most Valued Puppet of this industry/ Get your I.D…….. Independent? Fuck you….”
While this is a hip-hop record through-and-through, Sage spends a lot of time scribbling in his personal journals, with some life events that indirectly explain where he’s been the last few years. Depression seems to be a part of it, as both “Grace” and “Once Upon A Blood Moon” suggest he went through a bad break-up of sorts. Meanwhile on “Thank You”, Sage says goodbye to a loved one, with an apologetic, thankful and thoughtful letter, perhaps written to a recently deceased paternal figure. This stuff really gets you in the feels, as they say.
What makes Copper Gone such a great record – beyond the songwriting and top notch production – is Sage’s knack for balancing both his inner turmoil and his hip-hop roots, therapeutically channelling it all through his lyrics. Here is a man that we’ve all known is “sick of…” a lot things of their years, and his absence from the industry and own personal troubles have made for one of the most interesting albums of the year. Like he did way-back-when on “Makeshift Patriot”, Sage Francis has once again zeroed in on how a cross-section of the populace feels, and put it into rhyme. Well done, old friend.
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