Yothu Yindi, Tribal Voice

Australia's most famous indigenous rock act hit political paydirt with this notable album, though its limited success outside its home country was solely summed up by the dubious artistic achievement of appearing in the soundtrack for Encino Man. That isn't to say it's not an important album, and the cultural context alone makes it worth a listen, but questionable licensing choices like that don't advance its sociopolitical aims any and it's one that doesn't translate well the further you get from down under (I'm not just talking about the native Yolngu lyrics, either). An Australian ear will hear a cry for Aboriginal rights and social justice in songs like "Treaty" and "Tribal Voice;" an American ear will hear late 1980s rock with some local colo(u)r thrown in. An Australian ear will hear nostalgia for harmony with nature in "My Kind of Life" while an American ear will hear Crocodile Dundee with a reggae backing. I'm fortunate to have one ear of each, but it helps if your wife grew up in that era in New South Wales to fall back on for meaning because I certainly didn't. Don't mistake my ambivalence over its lasting cultural relevance for disdain: there's solid, even heavy, rock in tracks like "Gapirri" and "Mainstream," the nativist trappings of didgeridoo and bullroarer don't really overstay their welcome or come across as overly gratuitous, and there are some really impressively skillful moments scattered throughout such as the bubbling, trilling guitar intro of "Dharpa." Frankly I admire the (what's the Yolngu word for chutzpah?) of a band that unapologetically jams traditional songs sung in their native language, in their traditional style, between more contemporary pieces and dares you to do something about it. That's not enough, however: the problem with most albums made as political statements, even good ones, is that they are more important for what they stand for than what they sound like. Without understanding the reasons why it exists you're merely left with a competent album punctuated by musical novelty, not the fist of equality its creators intended. The CD issue includes the more famous radio mix of "Treaty," not necessarily better, just different, as well as an additional bonus radio track. (Content: no concerns.)