CD Review of The Library Book of the World by Danbert Nobacon & The Pine Valley Cosmonauts

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The Library Book of the World
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Bloodshot Records
Released: 2007
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I never “got” Chumbawumba. They always billed themselves – and were referred to in the press, at least – as an “anarchist collective.” What? The guys behind that vapid 1997 hit “Tubthumper” (“…he takes a whiskey drink / he takes a vodka drink…”) were anarchists? If you bothered to dig past the surface sheen, the disconnect between the hit song and the concept of anarchy, you’d have found some pretty devious behavior and some pretty serious politics at the heart of the band (including dousing the Prime Minister of England with a bucket of ice water at an awards ceremony). And the heart of that band belonged, more than anyone, to Danbert Nobacon.

Regardless of whether most people ever understood Chumbawumba, the band acted its civil disobedient best for the better part of 20 some-odd years, and Nobacon has done anything but give up the fight. Case in point: In 2005 he led a series of protest concerts against the G8 Summit in defiance of the Live 8 concert series. Other than Bono, and the occasional all-star benefit, you don’t hear much about musicians squaring off against The Man these days, so you gotta appreciate the effort, right? The Library Book of the World is his first solo album in more than two decades, and the result is both a self-contained manifesto and a companion to “Smart Lies, Secret Wars and Rock ‘n’ Roll,” a history and current affairs book Nobacon is currently writing. If the book is anything like this CD, I can’t wait to read it. Nobacon is relentless in his observations.

Joining this folk-punk melee are Jon Langford (Mekons, Waco Brothers) and his Pine Valley Cosmonauts, themselves no slouches when it comes to tackling the tough issues (“The Executioners’ Last Songs,” for instance: a three-volume multimedia project with the not-unambitious goal of abolishing the death penalty). The Library Book of the World is a rambling, ranting menace of a CD, tackling more issues than you can shake a pint glass at. Coming off like a cross between Tom Waits and the Pogues’ Shane Macgowan, Nobacon can probably both drink and argue you under the table. ”A series of blowbacks waiting to happen,” he gargles in “The Last Drop in the Glass,” an encyclopedic tirade against global geopolitics that takes aim at everyone from Harry Truman to Donald Rumsfeld. Nobacon tosses off lines like shots of whiskey: “Some folks call it a body bag, I call it my Sunday best / Don’t fear the sunburn, here rub this snake oil on your chest” (from “Straight Talk (Meet Frank)”). And “William Mulholland Meets Andrew Marhsall” is a dire, cynical take on man’s efforts to stem the rising waters of his own making (and brutally concludes only the upper class will prevail).

A rogue poet casting a knowing eye around the world and documenting what he sees, Nobacon knows contemporary society is crumbling all around us. And The Library Book of the World, with its warped sea shanties, smashed roots rockers, bitter ballads and motley laments, is just the kind of musical manuscript you need as a roadmap (or posthumous archive).

~Una Persson