CD Review of Songs for Tibet: The Art of Peace by Various Artists
Recommended if you like
Sting, Jackson Browne,
Amnesty International
Label
The Art of Peace Foundation
Various Artists:
Songs for Tibet:
The Art of Peace

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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J
ust in time for the Olympics comes this 20-track compilation, available exclusively on iTunes and designed to raise awareness of the plight of Tibetans who continue to demonstrate for independence in the face of increasingly violent crackdowns by the Chinese government.

Granting China the honor of hosting the 2008 Olympics was a decision preceded by no small amount of debate, of course; some argued that by placing their nation at the center of the world stage during the Games, the Olympics would place pressure on the Chinese government to ease off some of its more restrictive laws and policies. The optimists seem to have come up snake eyes on that roll, but on the bright side (sort of), the Art of Peace Foundation has convinced 20 artists to contribute new songs (or new versions of old songs) to the cause. It’ll never get as much press as the games themselves, but at least everyone’s heart is in the right place, right?

That’s as apt a summation as any for this album, actually. If you’ve purchased even one charity compilation CD in your life, you know pretty much what to expect from Songs for Tibet – namely, a handful of worthwhile songs, surrounded by fluffy white mounds of filler. The project has a lot of big names involved – Sting, Suzanne Vega, Dave Matthews, Garbage, Alanis Morissette, John Mayer, and Rush, to name just a handful – as well as an impressive array of buzz artists, like Imogen Heap and Regina Spektor, but all that star wattage can’t keep the album from boiling down to a thoroughly uneven listening experience.

Among the album’s worst offenders are Sting, who contributes a useless remix of the already-crappy “Send Your Love”; Moby, whose new version of “We Are All Made of Stars” is the very definition of inessential; and Underworld, whose “To Heal (And Restore Broken Bodies)” is ultimately far less interesting than its title. The Alanis track, titled “Versions of Violence,” sounds impressively polished for something that was recorded in a dressing room, but unfortunately, it finds Morissette in full-on screeching hippie mode – as a song, it’s pretty bad, but it does make you wonder how quickly Chinese Communist Party officials would cave into Tibet’s demands if they were locked in a room with the singer while she performed it.

Some of the artists on the plus side of the ledger include the always-charming Imogen Heap, who offers up a remixed version of “Hide & Seek”; Regina Spektor, whose “Better” just might be the album’s highlight; Dave Matthews, who contributes a stellar live version of “Where Are You Going,” performed with Tim Reynolds; and Jonatha Brooke, whose “peace mix” of “Madonna on the Curb” is starkly beautiful.

The positives outweigh the negatives, if only slightly; if you pay for the whole set instead of just cherry-picking the best tracks, you’re probably going to do it to support a cause, because the only album-only “track” is a 15-minute video featuring the Dalai Lama. (Judging from the first week’s sales – which, as of this writing, have pushed Songs for Tibet to the top of iTunes’ worldwide charts – a lot of people either really believe in a free Tibet, or really want that video.) It probably doesn’t have anything your collection absolutely needs, but if you’re a fan of any of the artists involved, you stand to lose nothing by heading over to iTunes and dropping a few bucks on some of the most humanitarian-friendly music you’ll hear all year.

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