The mainstream media stopped paying much attention to Public Enemy after the release of 1994's Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age, which supposedly signaled the group's descent from brilliance to irrelevance. Of course, history is seldom that simple, and anyone who gave up on arguably the greatest rap group of all time after Muse Sick is missing out on an uneven but often brilliant and incendiary body of work. Chuck D's anti-major-label rhetoric and proselytizing on behalf of MP3s have helped lower the band's public profile, but 1999's cranky and re-energized There's A Poison Goin On… confirmed that Public Enemy wasn't about to be relegated to the old-school trash heap. Poison's lackluster sales seemed largely attributable to Atomic Pop, the now-defunct Internet-intensive label that distributed it, but Chuck D remains convinced as ever that the revolution will be cybercast. Long a proponent of the Internet's democratic possibilities, Chuck D puts his money where his mouth is with Revolverlution, an unwieldy Frankenstein's monster of an album created in part through a web contest challenging fans to create their own remixes of classic Public Enemy tracks. Revolverlution's cover bills it as "a trilogy within a trilogy within a trilogy," and accordingly, the album spins off in at least three distinct directions. Vintage live songs and audio odds and ends remind listeners of PE's legendary past, new studio tracks represent its present, and remixes point simultaneously to the past and future. Not surprisingly, Revolverlution is all over the place, but for much of its first half, the album sounds vital, impassioned, and kinetic, if not overly cohesive. The title track, "Put It Up," and Flavor Flav's "Can A Woman Make A Man Lose His Mind?" pick up where Poison left off, stripping down the Bomb Squad's apocalyptic frenzy without losing its menace or sense of danger. The album starts to go horribly awry with its 10th song, the tellingly titled "Son Of A Bush," which rushes headfirst into self-parody and never looks back. A cringe-inducing collision of rudderless production, atrocious wordplay, and glib sloganeering, the song is bad enough to actually induce sympathy for President Bush. Revolverlution never quite recovers, as Chuck D fades into the background and Professor Griff inexplicably takes the reins for "Now A' Daze" and the overlong "What Good Is A Bomb," which tips its hat to D and Griff's little-loved Confrontation Camp project, wanky guitar solos and all. Great chunks of Revolverlution attest to Public Enemy's still-potent ability to raise a righteous ruckus, but not even Chuck D's formidable presence can keep the audacious, overreaching album from flying off the rails.

Advertisement