Laura Burhenn is sick and fucking tired of war. And gay-bashing assholes. And a lot of other things of which I am also sick and fucking tired. Lots of folks are probably sick and fucking tired of war (unless they work for the companies that profit from it), but what Burhenn did with her exhaustion and outrage is instructive:
She made one of the best albums of 2012 with it.
I know it’s only September and I know I’ve already made much of a certain Future of the Left record, but the beauty of refusing to rank things by number is that I can say that The Plot Against Common Sense and the Mynabirds’ Generals are on fairly even footing for me (along with Ugly by the Screaming Females).
Here’s the thing: Burhenn and her Mynabirds could have settled for a capable rehash of the old-timey, gospel-tinged loveliness of their debut. It probably would have been a consistent, listenable, slightly forgettable affair, but no more or less than your average She & Him album. Instead, Laura Burhenn, in a voice that is approaching Neko Case levels of beauty, decided to take a long, hard look at her country in 2012 and ask it just what the fuck it thinks it’s doing.
“Karma Debt” sets the tone by pondering what sort of colossal positive effort could possibly offset the damage done by our two (two and a half? I’ve lost count) wars over the last decade. The refrain contains one of the album’s themes in the kind of direct language I love: “I’d give it all for a legacy of love.” See, Burhenn doesn’t wanna kill the dumb motherfuckers (men, mostly) who perpetuate violence around the world; she’s pleading, sometimes demanding, that they see the folly of all this macho-asshole stuff and just knock it off.
But the genius of Generals is that it isn’t just the finest anti-war album of the current century (you didn’t really think it was American Idiot, did you?); it is also a righteous, impassioned cry against all violence. “Mightier Than the Sword” is an achingly beautiful (on a par with Andrew Bird’s “Hole in the Sky”) letter to a gay man who is considering suicide. The first time I heard it, in my car, I thought it was about a soldier returning from war. But then I put my headphones on at home and listened to the words (“Love who you love/ no matter what”) and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Now I cry every time I hear “Mightier Than the Sword.” For fuck’s sake, folks: it’s bad enough that we have a government that, no matter who’s in the White House, seems hell-bent on killing brown people around the world. But we also have people in this country who will commit horrible acts of violence against a man or woman simply because they love someone of the same sex. We’ve got assholes shooting up movie theaters and racists shooting up temples and people who think the solution to both problems is more people with guns. When is it gonna be enough? As Burhenn sings (on “Disarm”), “We won’t surrender a thing by disarming.”
When the prophet Joe Strummer sang, “Let fury have the hour/ Anger can be power,” he was probably talking more about rioting for justice than about singing for peace. But I’m gonna make the educated guess that he would approve of what Laura Burhenn has done with her anger. Listen to this record, kids. And keep the violence in yer video games where it belongs.
Love who you love
No matter what
No matter how hard it may come
And I promise
You’ll be loved, my love
No matter what
You’re mightier than
Their sword-sharp tongues