Wall Street, take cover. Mitt Romney, watch out. Ry Cooder is fired up with politics for his album “Election Special.”
As the clock ticks down to polling day, Cooder wastes no time in siding with Barack Obama.
The opener “Mutt Romney Blues” takes the point of view of the Republican candidate’s Irish setter Seamus, who was crated on top of the family’s car for a 12-hour trip to Canada in 1983.
“Mitt Romney went for a ride,” sings Cooder. “Pulled up on a highway side. Tied me down up on the roof. Boss, I hollered, woof, woof, woof.”
If you agree with Cooder, you’ll like his comments about a prospective leader of the free world. If your politics are elsewhere, some of his cheap shots may be deeply irritating.
With only days to go until the Aug. 27 Republican National Convention in Florida, Cooder switches persona to become a party backer for a jolly country ditty called “Going to Tampa.”
“I’ve paid all my money,” he says, “Sarah Palin calls me ‘honey’ and shakes the peaches on my tree.”
The singer predictably hates the Guantanamo detention camp and likes the Occupy movement. He urges protesters to take over “The Wall Street Part of Town.”
“Cold Cold Feeling” portrays a worried Obama pacing the White House until he wears out his boots. Cooder says the critics snapping at his heels should walk a mile in his shoes: “if you never been president you don’t know how it feels.”
The album follows “Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down” last year, which flayed bankers who “robbed the nation blind.”
Cynics will note that Cooder’s overly political voice has revived his career with headlines, controversy and sales. Still, he sounds like he really means it.
Popular music has often been political. The closing song “Take Your Hands Off It” harks back to Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” -- an apt memory in Guthrie’s centenary year.
Yet Cooder fails to match the lasting power of the box set “Woody at 100.” Inevitably, some of his references will date fast. “Election Special” has the same flawed, rushed urgency of John Lennon’s “Some Time in New York City” and Neil Young’s “Living With War.”
The insistent sloganizing rarely reaches the poetic best of his LP “Paradise and Lunch” in 1974.
The stripped-down music is just Cooder on guitars, mandolin and bass (with his son Joachim on drums). Fans of such classics as 1971’s “Into the Purple Valley” might wonder what happened to the slide-guitar brilliance.
“Election Special” is quick and dirty. It’s topical and may even move a few votes, but it’s far from Cooder’s best.
The album is on Nonesuch Records priced about $10. There is a limited edition adding a campaign-style button and bumper sticker. Download prices vary across services.
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(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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