HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF : LIFE ON EARTH

LABEL : NONESUCH

ALBUM IN ONE SENTENCE : Life On Earth gets as close to speaking to 2022 as any music might

I’m writing this as reports start to come from Ukraine that Kiev is surrounded and Putin has threatened the use of thermobaric and nuclear weapons. By accident in this moment, but not by accident in that this is always happening somewhere, the first lines of Hurray For The Riff Raff’s new album Life On Earth captures something of the trauma saying, ‘Go away from here, darling / All the wolves have arrived at your door.’

Delivering their sixth album under the moniker of Hurray for the Riff Raff, Segarra has created a broad, clear eyed but compassionate vision of what it means to survive and even thrive through these years. Life On Earth gets as close to speaking to 2022 as any music might.

Everything about Hurray for the Riff Raff has expanded since their powerhouse 2017 album The Navigator. That album was specific in sound and content to the Puerto Rican community of New York, dealing the loss of community and the dislocation that is a byproduct of gentrification. Now Segarra has moved to New Orleans and widened their vision to global issues. That widening reflects in the music. Life On Earth is still an indie rock album. Lead single ‘Rhododendron’ and ‘Saga’ both have a flavour of Chrissie Hynde that show continuation to The Navigator and also reflect something of Brad Cook’s production. However, the main thrust of the album on tracks like ‘Pierced Arrows’ is closer to the kind of global indie disco that has served the likes of New Order and Sharon Van Etten.

Returning to the theme of refugee’s experience, Segarra is capable on ‘Precious Cargo’ of righteous anger that should only amplify with the events in Ukraine. The same US administration that put pressure on Ukraine on Putin’s behalf put children in cages in El Paso and tried to build a wall. However, the main flavour of Life on Earth is not confrontation, but celebration and compassionate identification. Hurray doesn’t quite capture the clarity and depth of feeling Segarra shows in lyrics for the riff raff, the refugees, the trapped, the excluded, the persecuted. Title track ‘Life on Earth’ reaches the poetic level of a Psalm and matches it appropriately with gentle big easy gospel. ‘Nightqueen’ is all tenderness and empathy.

For some bands, a bigger sound and a broader vision might be a play for bigger things. With Hurray For The Riff Raff, Life On Earth doesn’t feel like that at all, but rather a play for a bigger truth, a wider inclusion, a more living equality. In one of his most famous poems, Wendell Berry encourages his readers to live in the paradox of being ‘joyful / though you have considered all the facts.’ Life On Earth acts as a vibrant example of how, in spite of the inhumanity, that may still be achieved.

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