Supporting Caste CD - G7 Welcoming Committee / Smallman
Somewhere in the midpoint between the previous and current milleniums, Propagandhi switched gears from playing a poor man’s NOFX style of skate punk to playing a burly, poor man’s Refused style of metalcore. To put it another way, the music got marginally better while the lyrics, which emphasize a rigid and unapologetically elitist form of uber-leftism, became shouted rather than whined.
While politics is as much a part of punk rock as drums and guitars, there is a distinction to be made between educating one’s audience and behaving as if one’s opinion is the only one that matters. Propagandhi’s ideology is well-intentioned, and the band works tirelessly to promote admirable social programs and charities. But too often the lyrics come across as shrill and divisive. To illustrate, let’s mention that the press release for this record equates any non-strictly-vegan diet with, um, cannibalism. Then there’s the unintentional humor of “Dear Coach’s Corner,” a painfully earnest screed in which singer Chris Hannah takes a marginally famous hockey announcer (a real person) to task for airing support-the-troops sentiments in his broadcast, before lapsing into an extended wallow in sports-based sentimentality (“Alberta-born and prairie-raised / seems like there ain’t a sheet of ice north of Fargo I ain’t played”). Even the minute-long hardcore blitzkreig of “This Is Your Life,” the purest musical moment on the record, leaves a sour aftertaste. The song describes an angry man who has alienated his family and friends and redirects his anger towards Iraqi and Afghani “terrorists.” But rather than exploring the character’s psychology or how he got there, the band simply mocks and belittles him with lines like “nobody listens to your stories anymore... you whine and cry in your manly voice.”
Purely as a rock record, Supporting Caste places far ahead of workmanlike but falls just shy of transcendent. Bill Stevenson’s appropriately lean production emphasizes the band’s impressive technical interplay, including some remarkably fleet fretwork from guitarists Hannah and David Guillas. But halfway through, the album congeals into a homogenous punk-metal stew (vegan, of course). But the main problem with Supporting Caste is that the band seems unable to acknowledge that people’s actions are motivated by factors other than calculated political decisions. The album is nothing if not consistent, but it is frankly exhausting to negotiate the politicization of everything from hamburgers to hockey pucks to basic human loneliness, even as the pick-slides and feedback threaten to drown out the rhetoric. The other option, to just bang your head and enjoy the tunes, negates the purpose of the record. Complicated!
By Matthew V. DeWitt