What if somebody told you that all of a sudden Jimmy Buffet, after a career built on mellow vibes of margaritas and island life went political? Even more baffling was when you listened to this newly motivated material, aside from controversial song titles, it was the same as it ever was? It would leave you baffled as to the intent and execution of the supposed message.
This is precisely the position Thievery Corporation now finds themselves in. Their new album is titled Culture of Fear, wrapped in a dark album cover of a surveillance camera and loaded with titles such as “Web of Deception.” Yet, there has been little to no change in their modus operandi. They are still the same laid back dub-inspired electronic group they’ve always been for the majority of the record. This is certainly not a bad thing at all though.
It starts off strong enough, with “Web of Deception” asking us why can’t we see the corruption around us backed by a Bond Theme-like groove. From there, rapper Mr. Lif takes us into the title track, and arguably the only politically charged track, pleading with the government to lower the country’s alert code past orange in the spoken word introduction. It’s a great track and arguably the standout song from the entire album. Only “Overstand” could possibly fit into the intended theme with Ras Puma telling us that he doesn’t care for religion but we are all still brothers. Past these, the whole “theme” gets a bit fuzzy if existent at all.
There are mellow but inspired instrumentals and near-instrumentals such as “Light Flares,” “Tower Seven,” “Fragments” and “False Flag Dub” that continue the tradition of including sufficient amounts of this vibe per album and guaranteeing them a spot on every “chilled out” compilation. “Is It Over” displays Thievery Corporation doing their best latter-day Massive Attack impersonation to electrifying results and “Take My Soul” whiffs a bit of Morcheeba’s signature style but it too is one of the album’s highlights.
Bear in mind this recommendation comes from someone who, while generally enjoying Thievery Corporation’s sound, is quite late to the game. Raised mainly on a diet of Rock and Country, this reviewer was late to the worlds of Electronica and Dub. Without the years of experience listening and dissecting the genres, it is difficult to pick apart specific things about the sound that are faulty. With rock one can easily point out the flaws of sloppy guitar work or juvenile lyricism. But with this brand of music, it just seems to wash over a person in a calming wave, making picking it apart tricky. This isn’t the type of music that gets analyzed that way. It doesn’t stand up and demand attention like a Metal guy’s scream or wailing guitar. It’s the sort of music for driving around downtown at night, mood music for a dinner with that special someone or to have some music on while reading.
The long and short of it concerning Culture of Fear all comes down to how you feel about Thievery Corporation already. If theirs is a sound that you’ve enjoyed on multiple albums and the group has a firm place in your collection then one shouldn’t hesitate to pick up this album. However, it is doubtful it will convert anyone. For those who’ve followed the plot thus far, is it as hypnotic as The Mirror Conspiracy or as explosive and downright revelatory as 2005’s The Cosmic Game? No it really isn’t, but it’s a step up from the more vanilla sounding Radio Retaliation. If one looks past their muddled attempts at political relevancy and focuses on the lush sounds the album has to offer, one will find Culture of Fear very rewarding.
By Jarad MatulaThievery Corporation – Culture of Fear (2011) by Trip-Hop Music