"The World Is A Ghetto"
United Artists (1972)
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
It's ironic that so much music is based in politics, because the latter leaves such a sour taste in most listeners' mouths. No matter the musical talent of an act such as Rage Against The Machine, many are going to be turned off because they can't get around the in-your-face political messages in the lyrics. War, on the other hand, has found a perfect balance between social commentary and flat-out fun music.
"The World is A Ghetto" is far from the most political of War's albums. Only two of the six tracks have any resemblance to commentary, but with a title like "Ghetto," social issues are pushed to the forefront. Undoubtedly, the title song is addressing the issue of life in a poor neighborhood. The band is from Los Angeles, and it could easily sympathize with the cause. But, despite the downtrodden nature of the instrumentals, the lyrics actually paint a positive message. Sure, housing might be bad, but LOVE is the solution!
"Where Was You At" is the perfect example of War's double-edged lyricism. On one hand, the vocal call "I looked around for someone to help me, where was you at?" sounds like a plea at the government from someone stranded in the titular ghetto. But then again, at the last moment vocalist and guitarist Howard Scott says "I was looking for you girl." Is it a social commentary? Is it an honest plea to a wandering woman? It could be, and probably is, both. Either way, the message is transferred and the listener is not offended for having heard it.
As for the band's musical style, it's a product of its Los Angeles upbringing. L.A. is as diverse an environment as any on Earth, and the multitude of musical inspirations is perfect for a jam band like War. The percussion in tracks like "Beetles In A Bog" and "The Cisco Kid" (itself about a fictional Latino character) feature Latin American percussion to add spice to the basic funk flavor the group started with. "Four Corner Room" seems to borrow some from both Indian and American Indian culture. The droning nature of the music is very Indian, which was still the rage in popular music at the time. The chanting vocal style is reminiscent of Western Native American music, and the lonely harmonica adds to the Western feel.
People tend to think of War more along the lines of its other classic album "Why Can't We Be Friends?", but "The World Is A Ghetto" was also extremely popular during its day, being the best-selling album of 1972. My vote is still out as to which album is better. Stay tuned.
INTERESTING FACT: The band War was originally founded as a side project for Animals' frontman Eric Burdon. He stuck with the group for two albums and then rejoined them for a reunion tour in 2008.