In The Age Of Ideology Dying, The “Political” Album Also Dies

Growing up, I always detested “political” albums because people were ranting to me about partisanship from an adult world that I knew had already failed. It really was shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic to demand one failed version of the current order over another. It also violated what I felt was sacred about art: its abstraction, metaphor, and connection to the naturalistic experience.

Great art does not tell you want to think. It opens doors, conjures visions, reveals adventure just beneath the surface of every day reality, and most of all, forces you to confront the question of meaning and its relation to the practical. It can even do this on the edge of the political, like Carbonized For the Security, the early works of William Faulkner, or William Gibson writing Neuromancer. But it is fundamentally asking philosophical questions through the experience of the maturation of the individual as that person tackles reality and accepts the limitations of human intention. Art does not tell us what to think, it shows us how to think, mainly by breaking us out of the present moment and showing us a story over time, where each action has a consequentialist result, like a hidden world of cause/effect relationships beneath the veneer of human activity and fears that normally fills our heads.

Some albums might be on the line. You have to be somewhat emotionally dead to fail to find Operation Mindcrime inspiring, although it is vague in its politics — a general distrust of authority, a belief in human moral or spiritual corruption — that you could come away with either an Antifa or Tea Party reading of it without really being wrong. The same holds true with some of the great paranoid albums like Discharge Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing which are more about how civilization inevitably and consistently becomes a death-trap. But the greatest of albums, like the Romantic writings of H.P. Lovecraft and J.R.R. Tolkien, or even C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley, show us a murky world of esoteric symbolism which deconstructs our motivations and then connects us to the logicality of elemental forces in our universe. Religion, philosophy, realism, pragmatism, and existential questing for significance to our lives are parallels united in such a form.

During the 1980s, the political album became bread and butter for the record industry. Almost everyone in entertainment and media was united against the President, or at least against the Cold War, and these albums found a ready audience that did not mind that such albums are much easier to create than mythologies of supernatural metaphor that probe what we really are doing here as sentient monkeys, sort of like the early Slayer work, in which similes of vampires, disease, occult evil, and human weakness get under the issues of the day and force us to debunk ourselves, see what actually motivates us, and prompt us to think about all the much more interesting things we could experience if we got outside of that tidy little moral kiosk.

That wave may be wearing thin. We are not in the 1980s or 1960s any longer, when people trusted in “people power” against oppressive institutions. We have realized, through some kind of sea change in a cultural force, that these institutions are made of people and the assumptions that we make about what motivates people allows us to admit the most corrupt motivations as “good” and then become baffled when the good ends up bad, every time. We are leaving that Age of Ideology where these simplistic categories could guide us, and entering new waters where we are looking into our souls to see if there is any actual good there.

Even more, music has become junk. Ease of production, decentralization of sales, and many more people involved with music has reduced it to the lowest common denominator. The punks thought they were a revolution, but really, they managed to open the door for music to be as hollow as the products on our shelves with catchy jingles on the radio. Music got dumbed down. It is easy to point the finger at hip-hop/rap, but that forgets that rock became formula, jazz became elevator music, metal became nu-metal, and across the board, every genre appears to be racing to the bottom to reduce music to a melodic hook and a driving rhythm. For some time, hip-hop was even our last mythological genre, translating political and cultural agendas into vivid stories of life as a gangsta, in an exciting world of high-value drug trafficking and instant death.

But now, even hip-hop has succumbed to the political album, and in hip-hop the political album has failed, causing a ripple effect as the emptiness of this form reveals itself across the board:

Despite the pre-release buzz, however, Revival isn’t the commentary-driven release many may have expected. The album’s political focus is mostly on the first half, with Em pondering everything from white privilege to Trump support in ways that feel sincere, but not quite revelatory.

Note also another bad sign: the self-referential title. When artists refer to their career with the album title, it usually means that horrors of tedium await as they pander to new audiences while half-heartedly trying to uphold their aging base.

Em calls out Trump most directly on the Just Blaze-produced “Like Home.” Rapping for “Someone get this Aryan a sheet,” Em delivers a quasi-sequel to his 2004 anti-Bush track “Mosh,” with Alicia Keys joining in for the hook. “Untouchable” sees Em rapping from the perspective of both a racist white cop and a black man—and it’s one of the few moments on the album that sounds inspired. But again, these socially aware moments are few and far between.

Em is mostly still navel-gazing. And it’s not all that interesting here.

The album sounds like a bore anyway, but the fact comes to light that after the great SJW battles of 2013-2017, politics no longer inspires people to buy something. It used to be a trigger, like in the 1960s, when you thought a political album was the way to be part of something bigger and learn something new; then, in the 1980s, it was more of a class aspiration signal, showing that you were with the hip, young, and entertainment-based instead of the old, kludgy and “do the right thing” generation. Now it is just another commercial message.

As political albums die out, new space opens for artistry. We no longer need to play binary sides, joining either the counter-culture (C2) or the counter-counter-culture (C3). We can instead write about what it is to be human and, through that, discover what is real around us and therefore conveys meaning to our struggles, because life is suffering but not all suffering is equal.

Similar to other deaths in the music industry, the death of the political album is the clearing aside of something that never was all that relevant, but dominated us because it was a trend. These old fads are passing on, leaving empty and ambiguous spaces like the eternal sensation of night, in which we can explore because infinity lurks in the darkness.

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28 thoughts on “In The Age Of Ideology Dying, The “Political” Album Also Dies”


    The best 80s albums were those that embraced the Cold War… but in retrospect that too was just futility and wishful thinking.

    The dream is not dead, until we are dead.

    1. Necronomeconomist says:

      Which albums embraced the Cold War?
      “Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying?”?

  2. Norman says:

    Eminem releasing a political rap album in 2017, where other rappers can reach the same popularity by rapping about irresponsible drug use and ultra-hedonistic lifestyles, totally undermines the relevance of the album, no matter how current the issues the album is tied to are (if the album was hypothetically worthy of attention). Modernity is directly tied to mediocrity.

  3. Deathevokation says:

    Political albums aren’t dead, were never a trend, and they will always be relevant because history repeats itself. From birth people are tied to politics whether they realize it or not due to their SS number, as tax payers, as workers, as voters, as non-voters, and from a political perspective learned from family, friends, music, movies, school, the university, and varied websites. Additionally, circumstances in a persons life may turn them hard in a political direction by enlisting in the military, as a victim of a crime by a minority, through attaining or being denied a job through affirmative action, through ones class status, and financial status. World events also affect one’s political perspective if they buy into the Zionist media narrative sanctioned by AIPAC regarding the “War on Terror” for “Freedom and democracy.” Religion paves ones political direction too. Just ask all the evangelicals in Trump’s base thankful he named Jerusalem the capital of the illegal state, Israel. Furthermore, one’s social status plays a key role in their politics. Obviously, if one is wealthy they’ll likely have different perspectives than those in the middle class or in poverty, and those notions will be enhanced if they live in a shithole like Baltimore vs living in mostly crime free suburbia. All of these topics, and many more are discussed in metal music, hip hop, rap, reggae, rock ‘n’ roll, blues, and even Beethoven’s Eroica evolved from inspiration from the French Revolution.

    The Cold War wasn’t the only reason people wrote political music in the 80’s. They did it as a reaction to industrialization, government attempts to impede the First Amendment, to draw attention to poverty in the US and world, as a reaction to worldwide wars, apartheid, crime, inequality, central banker scams, the wealth gap between working neo-feudal slaves and their corporate masters, and generally as a reaction to one injustice or another.

    Political music whether current or historic mirrors the constant struggle of humanity throughout the world. Therefore, it will always be important in peoples lives because politics is not a trend. To think and write otherwise is not only pretentious, it shows a basic lack of understanding for ones society, culture, global politics, and music of all genres.

    1. Marc Defranco says:

      I think what Brett is getting at is the political album that essentially tells you want to think is dead and I more or less agree. Albums that are good that involve politics usually go with a more nuanced vibe that looks more to explain human struggles, life and death, purpose and so on instead of just a one sided political perspective that says my side is on the right side of history and yours is wrong. People can be corrupt, even seemingly good willed people, it’s part of nature. Also Brett mentions the importance of anti-authority albums such as operation mindcrime which gets more at what it means to be human than some random completely political album. As far as political events, wars and what not influencing great albums, usually those albums speak more about human nature in general and the beauty, and cruelty along with everything in between we are capable of instead of saying something was exactly this or that. Getting at what underlies politics instead of the politics itself.

      1. Deathevokation says:

        Were Brett making the claim the political album is dead or that they speak from a one sided view then he should have sighted examples across genres. Even then his opinion will have been incomplete because it will likely focus on the notable albums from specific genres. But let’s say his view is correct. That only means a reaction to a one sided perspective will occur. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The reality of this article is that Brett wants to hit on the notion of “trend” because it’s a core theme of the article, and this website, to get people talking in order to keep the site relevant.

        1. Marc Defranco says:

          He did say examples like the rap album, but going through each genre I think would make things bloated. You should already know plenty of punk, metal, rock, rap/hip hop political albums, they’re everywhere. Currently mainstream and many underground labels use political albums to make money. They know a significant chunk of people will support the music because the politics aligns with their own. That could be considered a trend and if the music is already confirming what you believe then what’s the point? You aren’t developing any new ideas, realizing something beautiful or revealing new mysteries to be solved. SNL have been making money off of the current Trump presidency, really everywhere has and it has become a trend to either hate him, or blindly follow him. Brett also gives examples of what could be considered political albums but more so albums that touch on what underlies politics such as Carbonized – For the Security. Corrupt capabilities of man, the power of the illusion of choice, and more instead of blah blah blah this war is bad, the food industry is bad, I don’t like racists blah blah blah

          1. Deathevokation says:

            If Brett really wanted to make the point for why political albums are dying then he should have focused more on how the Zionist media is clamping down on Free Speech through their lobbyist think tanks like AIPAC, and their political puppets from Reagan to Trump by shutting down alternative investigation journalism or making it hard to find on Google, Youtube, and even Hollywood historically gets DoD and CIA approval for their brainwashing rubbish. He should have discussed mainstream moral purity on the Democrat side, fake news like Russia-gate, and their ridiculous preoccupation with fascism without realizing the US is the foremost jingoist fascist state in the world since Truman signed the CIA into power (Not that Republican’s are any better as both parties bow US foreign policy to Zionist Israel, and the Oded Yinon Plan). To clarify his point he could have dissected varied song lyrics across varied genres past and present to draw a compare and contrast. Frankly, I don’t listen to a lot of modern rubbish so a 2 or 3 part article expose on modern music vs past music focusing on political lyrics is worth far more dissection and analysis than his article provides. Then the reader can examine the info and cross reference it with other articles on other websites for multiple points of view.

    2. 1349 says:

      “they will always be relevant because history repeats itself”

      The population of the West was ~90% agrarian 600 years ago. Which means they lived all their lives in one village, seeing no other places except probably a couple of villages nearby.
      Which means they had no idea about politics and no interest in it.
      Which means they wouldn’t give a damn about political music even if it existed. :)

      Democracy and popular politics are a historical glitch rather than an eternal rule.

      1. Deathevokation says:

        Agrarian doesn’t automatically mean farmers are crude unsophisticated rubes with no reality of their situation. Tons and tons of history, archaeology, and anthropological studies prove agrarian societies existed within a hierarchy. Some agrarian societies warred with others for land, water, and resources. They wrote songs about their battles, struggles, the plight of warriors, to honor their enemies, to honor the land/animals/nature, and to leave a legacy.

        Democracy isn’t a glitch, and it never existed in the US. It’s a planned facade to mask an oligopoly run by an oligarchy for their benefit. The current state of our fake democracy is actually a kakistocracy. However, the US empire is on steep decline, and like all empires it will fail because history repeats itself.

        1. 1349 says:

          War for resources is carried out by warriors who are not farmers.
          Hierarchy automatically means that the ones above have duties different from the ones below.
          A peasant living in a stable agrarian mythopoetic world cares not for politics and isn’t involved in it, at least by his own will.
          And peasants are the majority in an agrarian society.

          Democracy is a glitch in the sense that it never lasts long. Democracy (people power) promptly leads a society to collapse.

          1. Deathevokation says:

            Afghanistan is a modern example of an agrarian society. Those farmers have been kicking US ass for 16 years. Before that they beat the Soviet Union. Before that the British Empire. What history says peasants don’t fight, have no politics, and that peasants aren’t pawns for a ruling class. Today people in the US live as neo-feudal debt slaves to corporate masters and their political puppets. Not much has changed except that people don’t realize their power is in their labor. Stop working and the machine stops. Politics is in virtually everything one does in life. You were more than likely born in a publicly funded hospital, got an SS number, and now pay taxes. As a tax payer your money and mine funds the entire nation. That alone makes us cogs in the political wheel. As for democracy, it doesn’t exist and never did. Here’s a great article on the topic:

            1. milk my dick says:

              watch less varg videos

            2. 1349 says:

              “Those farmers have been kicking US ass”

              So farmers, or trained soldiers?

              “Politics is in virtually everything one does in life.”

              …If you live in a modern urbanized society with specialized labour.

              Also, politics could influence the lives of peasants under feudals’ rule but that doesn’t mean the peasants were INVOLVED in political activity or even INFORMED or GIVEN CHANCE TO OPINE about such activity. :) Popular politics are a modern and/or democratic thing.

              1. 1917 or Die says:

                The warrior-farmer going from swords to plowshares to swords again according to what’s needed is a common figure in classic Rome history for instance.

                1. 1349 says:

                  Classic Rome history relates to slavery. The warrior-farmer had a dozen slaves and was, himself, a minority. Just as the free citizens in Greek cities.
                  The political class is always a minority. The deviation of modern (socialist/liberal) democracy is in that it pretends that slaves or peasants can have competent opinions in politics.

  4. Dwayne says:

    For once I agree about the political part. Metal is escapism, fuck politics.

    1. Svmmoned says:

      Fuck politics and fuck escapism. Metal is primal culture and philosophy.

      1. Rainer Weikusat says:

        To people who are convinced that there are two important things in life, 1. Money, 2. Sex (official order, inofficially, this will be swapped), this make metal cleary escapist.

        1. Death, the ultimate escape says:

          Existence is the pursuit for escapism and good feelz.

          1. Rainer Weikusat says:

            “Gewoehnlich glaubt der Mensch, wenn er nur Worte hoert, es muesse sich dabei doch auch was denken lassen”.

            Adapted for this situation:

            Gewoehnlich glaubt der Mensch, wenn er nur richtig Bloedsinn babbelt, wird man einen Sinn drin suchen muessen.

            1. Rainer Weikusat says:

              For people who don’t speak/ read German:

              The first is quote from Faust I and means roughly “People usually believe that mystifying statements must mean something” although this looses all of the beauty of the expression.

              The second could be translated as “People usually believe that properly talking out of one’s ass must lead others onto a goose chase for meaning”.

    2. Juss says:

      Politics is escapism when people use it to make themselves feel better by helping the poor/immigrants/starving children in Africa/whatever, or fighting back against the rich/patriarchy/scapegoat of the week. Elections and demonstrations make people feel like they’ve made a difference, but the same problems usually remain.

      Metal helps you to escape from the posturing and pandering of political “reality” into something closer to actual reality.

  5. Zorak says:

    I guess we’re all forgetting that the biggest album critically of the past five years was the highly political ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ by Kendrick Lamar.

    1. milk my dick says:

      Lamar’s lyrics are unfocused claptrap. That album SEEMS more political than it actually is.

  6. milk my dick says:

    >It also violated what I felt was sacred about art

    Nothing is sacred. Tear the sacred assholes of artistic prescriptivism with right wing oi! Heil Hitler!

  7. ulver sucks says:

    Barney Greenway using the same talking points that are “harmonious” with the mainstream to peddle Napalm Death albums to make mortgage payments reveals this to be true. Side B of Scum is more realist.

  8. Bernard Marx says:

    I used to admire the UK extreme metal scene. Now every time I remember Barney did a duet with his fan Ed Milliband (former Labour party leader) live on BBC, I just want to throw up. All but one guy I’ve met in the UK scene is a socialist. A deeply disturbing, orwellian experience.

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