Album: Various Artists

America ? a tribute to heroes, Columbia
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The Independent Culture

Following the Concert for New York City, this album is the second wave of the US entertainment industry's response to the recent terrorist attacks. It's a more problematic proposition than most tribute albums, partly because of the subject's literal closeness to their home, and partly because even the most insular and stupid of pop stars should be able to discern, however dimly, the connection between American foreign policy in the Middle East and what have become known as "the Tragic Events of 11 September".

Whereas a previous generation – including several of the older contributors to this album – strove to effect changes in US policy on Vietnam, it's arguable that the comparative silence of subsequent generations on equivalent matters has contributed to a geopolitical climate in which such cataclysmic actions can be countenanced as the only response to what many view as US imperialist oppression. After all, even George W Bush entered office with explicit isolationist intentions, as if a discreet veil could be drawn over the decades of American involvement in the region.

All of which lends a confused air to this doubtless well-intentioned album, some of whose contributors (Mariah Carey, Dave Matthews, Dixie Chicks) seem to believe that that old pop chestnut, love, is the answer, while those of a more religious persuasion (Faith Hill, Alicia Keys) seek solace in the Judaeo-Christian God in whose name America claims to act. Stevie Wonder and Take 6's "Love's in Need of Love Today" is at least preceded by a little sermon from Stevie about the blasphemy of killing in Allah's name. But in general, the political silence here is quite deafening: ironically, only Limp Bizkit broach the thornier notion of moral causation with their version of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here". The lines "But who can we blame/ Don't be ashamed/ Do you think we can change?" are appropriate in ways that Fred Durst probably never realised.

Another problem is that, obsessed as it is with adolescent notions of idealised romance, Anglo-American pop doesn't lend itself well to lamentation. The only performances here that come close to that are Paul Simon's lovely, touching solo rendition of "Bridge over Troubled Water", Wyclef Jean's impassioned version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song", and "My City of Ruin", the raw evocation of "boarded-up windows" and "empty streets" with which Bruce Springsteen opens the album. By contrast, the bombastic "God Bless America" – sung by a Canadian, Céline Dion – comes across as the kind of arrogant Yankee hogwash that so sticks in the world's craw. The album closes with Willie Nelson's more diffident take on "America the Beautiful", which, though pleasant, is far less powerful than the remarkable rendition of the same song by Ray Charles at the baseball World Series, the most potent recent reminder of the essential nobility of the nation's founding vision.

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