Okay, let’s put politics aside for a minute. Forget that this album is a benefit for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Just listen to the music and enjoy a first-rate collection of 14 new pop songs. With the exception of the sappy opening number by Howard Jones, both old-timers and newcomers (including actor River Phoenix’s band, Aleka’s Attic) contribute fine performances. K.d. lang’s twangy rendition of Maggie Roche’s “Damned Old Dog” is both funny and touching; Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders bring true grit to the reggae number “Born for a Purpose.” Freed from the jangle of his band, R.E.M., Michael Stipe sings a beautiful trio with the Indigo Girls, “I’ll Give You My Skin.”
While last year’s best anthology, Red, Hot + Blue, zigzagged from smooth jazz to messy rock, Tame Yourself sticks to pop-rock. Anyone who likes one song will probably like them all.
And now for the politics: Unlike the Red, Hot + Blue collaborators, who raised money for AIDS by singing Cole Porter songs, the PETA posse, mixing original and old tunes, sometimes lets the message drown out the music. Though the album’s best lyrics subtly express compassion for animals, others deliver what feels like a lecture.
It’s tough to keep from thinking that these pro-animal performers put the cart before the horse. Expressing outrage about fur-wearing and meat-eating seems like a secondary priority at a time when so many poor human beings face horrific living conditions. (It’s probably not a coincidence that Tame Yourself mainly includes white artists. There are certainly no black rappers, who tend to focus on crimes against people.)
There’s nothing wrong with performers using their talents to stop cruelty to animals. It’s just too bad that no one puts out an album as lively as this one to raise money for such unfashionable causes as protecting the health and hides of the people who live down the street. (RNA)