circa 1986, by Wilfred Langmaid -
'He blends folk, jazz and ethnic influences to make beautiful, complicated pop music that criticizes the world because he loves it enough to demand better.' Don Shewey
World of Wonders, the sixteenth career album of Bruce Cockburn, adds current fuel to his reputation for excellence. Once one of Canada's great national secrets with a career which began with his 1970 self-titled debut, Cockburn has become popular world-wide of late. In the process, his music has evolved from poignant folk to a more complex blend of acoustic rock, folk, jazz, gritty rock, and third-world rhythms.
Still very touched by visits to oppressed areas throughout the world, Cockburn's lyrics reflect both his Christian beliefs and his political views. The first single released from World of Wonders, People See Through You, is a scathing denunciation of United States involvement in world politics: "Your've got lip service tributaries/You've got death fetish mercenaries/You hold the tickets to the cemetaries/You're big and bad and scary/But people see through you."
Dancing in Paradise, a largely recited number written by Cockburn when he was in Jamaica last Easter, lays out in black and white the unfair dichotomy between the privileged and the unfortunate. Late in the song, Cockburn literally barks the lines: "They throw away money on spectacular shows/Toshow the world the right likes the rights music/And the Prime Minister sucks ice cream in the company of a happy band of children/While a naked man, sores on his neck/Lies for days in Washington Blvd. Gnawing chicken bones."
The most politically powerful song on the album is arguably the leadoff track Call It Democracy. A pulsing beat carries the song melodically while Cockburn's peerless lyrics are earnestly sung. The "international loan sharks, " "market hungry military profiteers ", and "modern slavers in drag as champions of freedom " all take a beating at the hands of Cockburn, who berates this "idolatry of ideology " as he sings: "See the paid off local bottom feeders/Passing themselves off as leaders/Kiss the ladies shake hands with the fellows/And its open for business like a cheap bordello/And they call it democracy. "
Late in the song, Cockburn issues a warning: "One day you're going to rise from your habitual feast/To find yourself staring down the throat of the beast/They call the revolution. "
While Cockburn's lyrics are the core of his music, he has a fine sense of melody and rhythm, and he knows how to add flavor with innovative variations from the norm. His longtime bassist Fergus Jemison Marsh now also spends a lot of time on the stick while brother Hugh, another longtime Cockburn band member, adds electric violin coloring.
Percussionist Chi Sharpe has an arsenal of instruments and percussive toys from around the world and trumpeter Michael Alan White also spends time playing a conch shell.
The combination can deliver rather simple pop as in the engaging See How I Miss You this may be a potential single unless the choice is made for another more complex and political number. With a nice backbeat, the unit gives a neat little hook throughout Down Here Tonight. Two mellow and thoughtful songs - Santiago Dawn and Berlin Tonight -end up as powerful as the more upbeat, angry tracks.
Musically, Cockburn is topnotch. Always an exceptional acoustic guitarist and an underrated and most skillful electric guitarist, he also unveils on this album the charango, a tiny stringed instrument from Central America whose clipped and high sound adds a special flavor to several tracks, particularly Lily of the Midnight Sky.
While all join in on the chorus, each stanza is basically the charango accompanying Cockburn's deadpan reciting. Always a genius in the creation of spectacular imagery, his music-backed poetry conjures up some stylistic images of The Doors' Jim Morrison, but Morrison's concerns at such moments of in-song reciting-a tripping skull or a hyperactive scrotom-are light years separated from Cockburn's concerns.
While achieving world-wide success, Cockburn is essentially a man with a message. As he sings in the title cut, he is "...trying to catch the scent of what's coming to be in this world of wonders."
"I can't stop moving till I cross this sector,' Cockburn asserts, and we are the better for it."
-- from On the Record, The Saint Croix Courier, circa 1986, by Wilfred Langmaid