Righteous anger has historically fueled more great music than comfort or contentment ever could. So it stands to reason that the Bush administration—a lightning rod for righteous anger if ever there was one—ought to inspire more than the everyday musical outpouring of poignant protest and inchoate rage. But while the months leading up to November 2004 have seen a daunting flood of artists rushing out their pre-election salvos, much of the highest-profile protest music has appeared in the form of glorified artist samplers, each larded with B-sides, outtakes, live tracks, and other filler material. The music itself is rarely even political; it's hard to imagine protesters taking to the streets outside the Republican National Convention and blaring Future Soundtrack For America's exclusive remix of Blink-182's "I Miss You."
A companion CD for the McSweeney's book compilation The Future Dictionary Of America (reviewed separately in this week's Words section), with profits aiding sundry progressive causes, Future Soundtrack For America could stand to lose a bit of fat: Besides the aforementioned remix, it didn't need a calamitously shrill, ugly live track from Yeah Yeah Yeahs. (Especially not one bookended by Clem Snide's amazing new "The Ballad Of David Icke" and an acoustic version of Fountains Of Wayne's "Everything's Ruined.")
But padding is to be expected of a project that strives for variety and value—and for which dozens of acts lined up to offer support. Ultimately, the marginal nature of so many of Soundtrack's contributions only makes the new originals all the more welcome. From a characteristically grandiose Death Cab For Cutie song ("This Temporary Life") to an uncharacteristically white-knuckled screed from Ben Kweller (the self-explanatorily titled "Jerry Falwell Destroyed Earth"), the previously unreleased material makes Future Soundtrack For America more than a feel-good purchase. It seems to prioritize fundraising savvy over howls of protest, but at its best (as on, say, the album-closing pairing of Tom Waits' "Day After Tomorrow" and Elliott Smith's "A Distorted Reality Is Now A Necessity To Be Free"), its mission couldn't sound nobler.