Ry Cooder – Election Special (Nonesuch Records)
Ry Cooder’s Election Special is an album with a best before date. After the November American election, these songs are so lacking in timelessness that they will expire.
The album has a few strengths. Cooder is a guitar icon and his typically strong technical skills are on display (he plays all of the instruments). There are moments of humour reminiscent of the best Ry Cooder and the production is strong.
The weak songwriting is where this album falls flat. Instead of attempting to address the broad issues that great protest songs tackle, Election Special is very specifically about this election. Entire songs are devoted to the 2012 convention locations and Guantanamo. It`s akin to someone writing songs directly about Michael Dukakis in 1983; see how a song like that holds up now. In addition, the songwriting feels forced. There are too many places where meter and rhyme are thrown off by Cooder trying to make a point.
Adding to the malaise is Cooder’s approach to the albums roots/blues sound. It’s clear that he chose this genre because of the history of roots music and protest music. The problem is that he brings nothing new to the blues here, using it only as a convenient medium for his overwrought political message. To use music as propaganda you first have to draw them in with the sound. And this album is too boring to make anyone a believer.