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Chain & The Gang - Down With Liberty ... Up With Chains!

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Artist: Chain & The Gang

Album: Down With Liberty ... Up With Chains!

Label: K

Review date: Apr. 7, 2009

The Sassiest Boy in America has given up and let the shackles fall. Ian Svenonius – spiritual figurehead of Nation of Ulysses and their 13-point plan to destroy America – seems to be done with change-through-resistance. Instead, he’s now running the asylum from inside as Chain and the Gang. And where Svenonius’s Nation tried secession, Make-Up preached, and Weird War held up the mirror, Chain is just saying “no thanks.” If this is the best freedom has to offer, he’ll take incarceration.

Svenonius continues his war against vacuity here by more or less ceding control to The Man. The bluesy affectation assumed on Down With Liberty is a direct descendent of actual dead-enders like Abner Jay, or the inmate musicians represented in O, Brother Where Art Thou? Despite claims to the contrary in the song "Interview with the Chain Gang," he has done this before, and so have plenty of others. Electric blues guitars, early R&B bass-lines, and Svenonius’s trademark sneer are just as present here as any previous garage 45. This is institutional music as played by the rock ‘n’ roll establishment.

The main difference here is that Svenonius is hardly institutionalized. Unlike the similarly monolithic rock ‘n’ soul character of King Khan, Chain goes beyond style for style’s sake. He’s more like Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys, using incarceration as a chance to critique the outside world through screed and by example. “Reparations” calls for atonement from everyone: the government, the schools, the TV, and you. But at the same time, “What is a Dollar?” indicts currency as “the way they segregate and control us.” There seems to be no winning, and the lack of solutions can be frustrating.

But the most powerful critique provided runs counter to Chain’s practice of fatalistic observation and resides in ol’ fashioned resistance. “Deathbed Confession” sets off on a defiant march that catalogs the last minutes of America’s great disruptors. A helicopter-bound hanged man confesses to killing JFK with “some guys you still see walking around.” A man marooned by his submarine is mauled by sharks and takes credit for the assassinations of MLK – on behalf of the CIA – and Malcolm X – on behalf of FedEx. Svenonius paints a picture of Samuel Mudd as the Everyman. He suggests a Catch-22 that says the only route to liberty is through the destruction of freedom’s agents and the assumption of society’s very real chains.

Svenonius isn’t saying he’d rather die on his feet than live on his knees. That kind of stance requires some investment in a position within the world. Chain and the Gang sees him removing himself from the debate. "Down With Liberty" is filled with smart, incisive, catchy excoriations of America that shows he’s figured out the problem and seen there’s no solution. The only option is to give up on The Dream, and have fun while you can. "What’s my stance? Y’know, I like to dance. And smash things up when I get a chance" says Chain in his "Interview." Like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, he’s not asking anyone in the gang to follow his example. But when faced with the charismatic insight of a prison savant that’s got the world figured out, you can’t help but fall in line. Even if his shots are aimed directly at you.

By Evan Hanlon

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