This is one of those albums that I look at and have to ask myself “why did I buy this album, again?”. I don’t mean that in a this-album-is-hot-garbage kind of way, especially considering this is the first time I’ve ever listened to Hypocrisy Is the Greatest Luxury. I say that in more of a I-don’t-reconginze-any-of-the-songs-listed-in-the-liner-notes-so-why the-hell-did-I-by-this kind of way.
The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy (who going forward I’ll only refer by the acronym TDHOH) was a Oakland based duo of Rono Tse and Michael Franti, who most of you now know as the front man for Spearhead (another group that I’ve heard about but have never listened to one of their songs, that I’m aware of). The two met while they were attending San Francisco University and with a few other cats formed a punk/spoken word band called Beatnigs. Between ’86 and ’90, the Beatnig’s would release a full length album and an EP on the indie record label Alternate Tentacles. Michael and Rono would leave the Beatnigs to form TDHOH, signed a deal with 4th & Broadway, and released their debut album Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury (which I’ll refer to as HITGL from here on out) in 1992.
With the exception of some live instrumentation from a few friends, HITGL is completed produced by the duo, and would go on to receive critical claim (which is a relative term), which naturally means it didn’t move a ton of units. The album was also included in Robert Dimery’s book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, which means I now only have 1000 more albums to listen to before I croak. Life is all about progression, son.
Satanic Reverses – Over a solid bass line and decent instrumental, Franti opens things up calling out the contradictions and inconsistencies that existed in America in 1992, and many of his thoughts are still relevant today. There is a lot of meat on this bone. You’ll have to listen to it a few times to decipher through it all. Thanks to a mediocre instrumental, I didn’t really feeling this one.
Famous And Dandy (Like Amos ‘N’ Andy) – Ah! The one song from HITGL that I do remember. Once I heard the intro it immediately brought the video for this song back to memory. For those who may not know, here’s a little episode of Kid’s Korner: Amos ‘N’ Andy was radio shows that ran from the late 20’s to the mid 50’s. The show starred two white actors who played two African-American men, and played heavily on ethnic stereotypes as the characters spoke and acted buffoonishly, aka a minstrel show. On this one Franti addresses how a large portion of black entertainers, and blacks in general, will almost sell their souls to become rich, famous, or just get noticed. Franti makes a lot of solid points in this one, but his substance gets lost in his awkward delivery that falls somewhere in between traditional hip-hop rhyme form and spoken word. Plus the terrible instrumental completely buried the song.
Television, The Drug Of The Nation – If you didn’t already figure it out based on the song title, this one is about the dangers of television that, as Franti puts it, is “breeding ignorance and feeding radiation”. Franti sounds like a poor man’s Chuck D when he recites the hook on this one. Instead of mixing delivery methods, Franti sticks with the spoken word approach, and it works for the most part. Charlie Hunter is credited for adding some live guitar licks to the enjoyable instrumental. This was solid.
Language Of Violence – Michael (I had to take a short break from referring to him as Franti) shares a tale of a teenage boy who is possibly struggling with homosexuality (it’s never made clear as I’m sure Franti left it that way on purpose), being bullied at school. The bullies start of by calling the boy derogatory names, then things quickly escalate, when the bullies follow him home from school one day and beat the boy to death. An eye-witness catches the act, so the main conspirator is tried as an adult and after being convicted and sent to prison, becomes the recipient of what “comes around goes around”. Franti closes the song with some pretty powerful questions, leaving the listener with something to chew on. The instrumental is not spectacular, but it works, as it’s understated form allows you to focus on the content.
The Winter Of The Long Hot Summer – In an almost whisper of a voice Franti recalls the events leading up to and through the Gulf War. This was painful to listen to. The boring instrumental mixed with Franti’s choppy delivery make this song feel like it’s 25 minutes in length.
Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury – Over a mediocre up-tempo instrumental, Franti acknowledges his own hypocrisies before calling out America on its hypocrisies, which is kind of hypocrisy in itself, right? I love the violin sample that comes in during the hook, though.
Everyday Life Has Become a Health Risk – Franti rambles on about government experiments and tests that damage our air quality with toxic chemicals and animals being injected with hormones to grow faster for human consumption. I believe there is truth to his thoughts, but never have I been so bored listening to someone discuss conspiracy theories in my life. This was almost as bad as “The Winter Of The Long Hot Summer”. Furthermore, based on the song titles on HITGL, the album could have appropriately been titled “The Album With The Long Ass Song Titles”.
INS Greencard A-19 191 500 – I’m assuming this interlude was included to set up the next song…
Socio-Genetic Experiment – Over a decent instrumental and some live guitar licks from Charlie Hunter, Franti discusses his multi-ethnicity (he’s Native American, African-American, Irish, and German), how growing up this way in America makes one in his shoes feel, and despite all the challenges he faces, he’s still proud of who he is. This was a decent listen.
Music And Politics – Over some simple but pleasantly peaceful acoustic guitar licks from Charlie Hunter, Franti gets introspective as he discusses the things he would focus on if all his thoughts weren’t tied up on music and politics. Must be an Aries thing, because I can feel him on all his introspections. Easily, my favorite song on HITGL.
Financial Leprosy – Still planted firmly in his pulpit, Mike (by this point we’re acquainted well enough to be informal) uses this one to address the irresponsible spending of the American consumer as well as the misguided spending of the American taxpayer’s money by the government. The garbage instrumental mixed with Mike’s awkward delivery make this one nearly impossible to listen to.
California Uber Alles – The song title (which when translated from German to English means “California above all others”) is taken from the late seventies song of the same title, from the rock group The Dead Kennedys, which takes shots at then California governor Jerry Brown. Like the Dead Kennedys before them, TDHOH use it to criticize then current republican governor Pete Wilson and his policy. I’d rather watch paint dry than listen to this song again.
Water Pistol Man – After listening to this one 4 times and reading the lyrics from the liner notes, I’m still not sure who the “Water Pistol Man” is or what the hell this song is really about. Thankfully, this is the final song of this 13 song sermon, because I’m starting to get a migraine listening to this.
Franti’s style can be best described as Chuck D meets Gil Scott-Heron. Like those two legends, Franti has a lot to say on HITGL, as he brings some original concepts and makes many solid points, leaving the listener with a lot to chew on. At times, maybe too much to chew on. I’m all for substance in music, but if the substance is presented in an unentertaining format, the music suffers, which results in the artist losing the listener’s attention. Unfortunately, the majority of the production on HITGL ranges from mediocre to painfully boring, while Franti struggles to find a delivery that works, and sounds uncomfortable throughout, as he crams more content in to each song than the human brain is able to consume; and more importantly, enjoy.
Not a good album but I’ll have to seek out the rest of Franti’s work as the dude definitely shows potential on this one.