New York City's long-reigning ska and reggae champions The Slackers didn't need their years surrounded by "A" patches and exed-out flag buttons on the Warped Tour to teach 'em about mixing pop and politics. Nah, the Slack was well familiarized with Max Romeo's War Inna Babylon, with Burning Spear's "Slavery Days," with Desmond Dekker, who would "get up every morning, slaving for bread, sir / so that every mouth can be fed," and with John Holt, who warned that, "if you continue to burn down the herbs / we gonna burn down the cane fields." Reggae, and to some extent its ska predecessor, was the original rebel music: How many mohawked punks have had political-minded gunmen attempt assassination against them, like Marley?
The Slackers weren't in their native New York on Sept. 11, but on a Danish commune during a European tour, so maybe Rudy Giuliani -- the bugbear behind their "Soldier" -- couldn't work his magic on these City folk. But something tells me that "Keep It Simple" wouldn't have changed much: "On a fall day you had asked me / for me love, my friend / said I could trust you / that you were gonna be my man." On International War Criminal (one big-as-Texas guess to whom that refers), The Slackers take three years' worth of anger and forge it into five songs that span the gamut of R&B-influenced ska, roots reggae and punky 2-Tone styles, but stick to a general lyrical subject line: We're "living in a world gone crazy" in which the only information passed along is "Propaganda," and the result is a desperate need for reform, catharsis or madness.
International War Criminal has the feel of something immediate and desperate, but, in true Slackers style, never of something rushed: The band has been playing these songs for months, perfecting them, zeroing in musically. Lyrically, the specificity of content betrays singer/keyboardist/songwriter Vic Ruggiero's normal talent for metaphor, subtlety and old-school Brill Building camouflage. But "Keep It Simple" and "Rider" still stand out as likely permanent additions to the Slackers repertoire, as well as the already-bursting anti-Bush hymnbook.