The nicest thing I can say about Chumbawamba is also the nicest thing I can say about John Kerry: I am actively glad each exists. This is not faint praise. It’s more than I can say for the substantial majority of pop groups and politicians, and most likely more than you and I can say for each other. OK, so Chumbawamba are anarchists and Kerry isn’t. Both are bright, idealistic, pragmatic, empirical; both are adept at walking the ethical tightropes of influence and money; both have worked their asses off to earn the good faith that serves as the safety net underneath. Mentioning that listening to their rhetorical cadences for 45 minutes makes my teeth hurt is ultimately a nitpick.
The impact of this nitpick on Chumbawamba’s new Un and John Kerry differs, of course, due to market choice. In the former case, there are more tempting alternatives than one can experience in a lifetime. In the latter, there are two, both bankrolled by the Republican Party, the more tempting a 70-year-old bachelor who has spent less time in elected office than Michael Moore. So, while I can condone Un, I can’t quite endorse it, because I don’t know anyone to whom I’d recommend its nine-pound-hammer irony, its Abba-at-a-labor-rally tune sense, its sans serif Pro Tools sheen. I mean: Do you sing along with car commercials? Can you cluck approvingly in 4/4 time? As one Chumba or other put it: “We love pop music. Pop music has a huge emotional impact on young people. If we just wanted to be political, then we’d write pamphlets.” Well, yes, and if Jack Chick just wanted to be religious, then he’d put out the regular tracts.
This does pinpoint their demographic, the secular obverse of Chick’s: earnestly progressive 15-year-olds, and the parents who love them even more than they fear “crunk,” whatever it may be. For these parents, I recommend 2000’s WYSIWYG: scattershot funny enough to qualify as the progressive obverse of the Dead Milkmen’s Beelzebubba, and available for less than a dollar anywhere CDs are being sold for less than a dollar. For the earnest 15-year-olds, I recommend Beelzebubba. For admen and/or iPodders, I recommend Un‘s winsome standout track, “Following You.” For all other interested parties, I recommend chumba.com, which, in a move as ethical as it is terrifying, features a five-minute medley of Un‘s most hook-embedding moments. And for everyone reading this, vote Kerry. Long may he annoy us all.