Songs For Emma – Red Lies & Black Rhymes

Songs For Emma
Red Lies & Black Rhymes

San Francisco’s Songs For Emma are a punk band in the truest since. Their goal isn’t to sell a bunch of records. Their goal isn’t to be progressive and create new sounds. They don’t even care if they’re entertaining. All they want is for you to listen and learn.
Like a lot of punk bands, Songs For Emma carries a political message. Whereas other punk bands choose to be vague with their politics for reasons such as not wanting to alienate their fans or not believing strong enough in what they’re saying, SFE brings their message with all the subtlety of a German tank. That’s actually not a good metaphor because SFE are anti-violence, but you get my point.
The band’s focus is not so much on making good-sounding music as it is on its strong socio-political message; that’s not to say they can’t play well because they can and do. Considering themselves “workers” and not “musicians” it’s understandable that the instruments take a backseat to the scathing political commentary offered up by frontman Tommy Strange. His powerful lyrics describe everything from local tragedies (“Parameters of Compassion”) to national atrocities (“Going to the Market”). What hammers home Strange’s message are his tortured vocals. Combining the quiet, pent-up rage of Springsteen, the sometimes indecipherable rambling wisdom of Dylan, and the gone-through-hell sound of Tom Waits, how Strange sounds conveys his message just as much as what he says.
Covering everything from the struggles of the working class to foreign policy to immigration, the lyrics of this album reads like a leftist political handbook. “Parameters of Compassion” is a story of an elderly woman evicted from her apartment. When Strange growls, “No need to fight Lola McKay / At 83 they’ll sweep you away / Landlord needs even more than 700 K”, its sure to pull on some heartstrings. “Going to the Market” details the reckless carelessness of the American military when it unintentionally dropped several cluster bombs over a civilian market in Serbia. But SFE doesn’t just limit its criticism to the American government. Former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco is run though Strange’s political wringer in “Voice of Barcelona.” “Price They Pay,” an unusual introspective look into American sanctions on Iraq, brings the album to a close. In one of the album’s most bluntly powerful lines, Strange quips, “How far can the bodies pile up to the sky? / That’s the price they pay / Says Secretary Madeline / Secretary of the barbarians.”
If you’re looking for a light and easy listen, then this is definitely NOT something you want to pick up. Songs For Emma isn’t about having a good time. However, if you’re willing to curl up with the lyrics sheet and listen attentively to what Mr. Strange has to tell you, you might just learn something.