Thursday, November 11, 2010

"The World Is a Ghetto" (1972)

38. War, "The World Is a Ghetto" (Dec. 30, 1972, #7)

I can't put my finger on exactly why I have this impression, but I have long had the sense that War is not taken particularly seriously. That could just be me on their "Why Can't We Be Friends" (pretty weak tea). Or it could be memories of a friend carping about "The Cisco Kid," which has since been filed by me under guilty pleasure. Or maybe it's the early association with Eric Burdon, who is easy to shrug off. But the best stuff that War ever did, and this is the best of it, packs quite a punch, moody and brooding and atmospheric and, as we used to say, tellin' it like it is. (Among the songs that charted, "Slippin' into Darkness" is very nearly as good in this vein, and "All Day Music" practically the equal of either with a slightly different wrinkle, celebrating a mellow and funky joy.) Suffused with enormous sadness, this song quickly sinks into explicit resignation, with an evident understanding of all connotations of the word "ghetto"—I suppose that's the Oakland origins, or maybe just my perception of same. The tempo is slow and deliberate, as if pondering its own heavy weather, or even caught, mired in it, and the instruments are of the time, soft horns and wah-wah effects and that haunting harmonica of Lee Oskar. The verses play off of a kind of wistfulness that still bears vestiges of hope, but the chorus shuts that down. Not to destroy the hope but to put it in perspective, to set the appropriate expectations—as we say now—and it feels like it's overflowing with a world of authoritative experience. In the moment, it's hard not to believe they know exactly whereof they speak. It's hard not to believe that the world is a ghetto still, to this day.

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