Sage Francis Sage FrancisLi(f)e
Indie rock and rap. Bangs and a cap. Butterfly fluttering and masculinity. Heroin and pot. Two worlds separated by a barrier that only the most daring may cross. And even so, things don’t always turn out well. There are materials in this world that should not be mixed: curry and mayonnaise; blueberry jam and ham croquettes; striped jumpers and plaid shirts… Ya know what? Sage Francis has decided it’s not the case. Hip hop and indie can drink from the same cocktail glass without anyone wrinkling up their nose or making disgusted faces. It’s not a bad tactic for keeping the street buzz alive. Surround yourself with an impossible troupe of collaborators who are totally outside of your world, and this way you really pique people’s curiosity, you really get them going. It’s a pity, though—maybe in the 90’s it would have stirred up the waters, but in these times of crisis, with everybody fed up, the last thing that a hip hop lover wants is to hear acoustic guitars, and the last thing an indie kid wants is to see some guy rapping about the life of a car booster.
Make no mistake, nobody is saying that Sage Francis is a lousy MC. On the contrary, if anything manages to give value to this popfolkrockistarapcountry gibberish, it is precisely his verb, his libretto, his muscular diction. He is still a gifted writer, vigorously kneading his stories, and he miraculously manages to drive a bus without brakes along a suicidal cliff. What’s the starring subject this time? Religion. Francis hates it and he lets us know in his own way: directly, with good literature, with an undeniable power. The problem is the music. The problem is the incomprehensible whimsy of surrounding himself with crepuscular acoustic guitars, indie electricity, folksy landscapes, populist blues, and epic rock, like in the seven endless minutes of the first cut, “Little Houdini,” or in “London Bridge,” a pastiche with British flavour that even gives you the shivers. Catch the names who accompany him on the album: Mark Linkous (rest in peace), Jason Lytle, Chris Walla, Devotchka, Calexico… Even Yann Tiersen is there, being a nuisance in the amazing (amazingly annoying and know-it-all) “The Best Of Times.” They’re all fucking brilliant in their own worlds, nobody is questioning that, but they stink in this context worse than a dead skunk in an operating room. If one thing is clear from songs like “The Baby Stays” –country folk with a farmer violin– or “Three Sheets To The Wind,” it’s that in this world not everything goes; crossbreeding, or fusion, or whatever you want to call it, is a crock. To each his own. Experiments should be done at home and under adult supervision. Blah, blah, blah.
It must be said, though, that the whole album doesn’t deserve to be burnt in the town square. Oddly, the most intimate passages and the spoken word turn out to be the album’s best moments. “I Was Zero,” has a very interesting tinge of nostalgic “memory lane,” in spite of the guitar. “Diamonds And Pearls” is a lovely funeral march: lethargic rhythms, penitent religious percussion, horrorcore atmosphere, and no guitars (thank God!). I like the dream universe of “16 Years” and its air of a 70’s terror flick soundtrack. Anyway, let’s imagine what would happen if we took this album’s lyrics and put them into a hip-hop musical context, that is to say, with hair on their chest, fat beats, hard bass, and samples of funk. The rating would be no lower than 7.5. So let’s imagine it, then. Óscar Broc