There's a series of streamlined quotes from great minds in the liners of Rhode
Island MC Sage Francis' new album, A Healthy Distrust. Titans
of cultural import including Albert Einstein, Charlie Parker, Robert
Zimmerman andů erů Vincent Gallo have nuggets of whizdom denoting creativity
and the visceral process of artistry in the booklet. It's the last quote,
though, that belies Sage's career. Woody Allen's famous little toss-off "I
don't want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve
it through not dying" is a clever one-liner that deftly summed up his
pathos. But more importantly, it magnified his impish comic timing. Unfortunately,
it doesn't fit "The Angster of Love."
To call him strident would be kind. Sage Francis is the Symbionese Liberation Army of this rap shit; he's angry, righteous, self-serious and willing to take hostages. Namely bilious misogynists, major label-backed rapists, clickety-clack gun-toters and wannabe MCs. Actually, he verbally murders these hostages, so scratch that. His weighty messages are duly noted. Unfortunately, they're delivered so acrimoniously that the overwhelming lack of fun in the music makes his albums a chore to listen to.
There are a few moments of clarity on Sage's second official album (he's released tons of tour-only records). The Will Oldham-assisted "Sea Lion" injects some melody and a bearable chorus into his sound. And the production is competent, if a bit underwhelming. Longtime collaborator Alias and newcomer Reanimator offer skittish beats for Sage to rhyme over. But Sage's sulking dulls the life of their sounds. Even exciting Grey Album mastermind Danger Mouse has his mojo miffed on "Gunz Yo," a fairly obvious guns=phalluses diatribe. The most disconcerting element of Sage's career is that, and pardon the parlance, for a white boy he can flow a little. The quick-lipped "Escape Artist" is an impressive feat of stopwatch rap. But he really makes his dime on his wordplay, which is structured and unambiguous, but also weaves in and out of traditional schemes.
Sage's first full-length, Personal Journals, also on punk stalwart Epitaph, was more reminiscent of his roots in slam poetry an art form that often gets too mean-mugged for its own good, so it's clear where his vitriol comes from. On Distrust he's making an effort to simulate a cohesive rap album. Last year's collaboration with producer Joe Beats as the Non-Prophets was far more successful because it had a laid-back, reverential approach to hip-hop, unlike this relentless angry rant of an album.