Winner of 2010’s longest album title with What We Lose In the Fire We Gain in The Flood, The Mynabirds’ follow-up eschews verbosity and gets it down to a single word, Generals. Inspired by Richard Avedon’s iconic photograph, “Generals of the Daughters of the American Revolution”, Laura Burhenn juxtaposes the privileged, regal ladies of Avedon’s portrait with those she considers to be true daughters of the revolution, the likes, say, of Rosa Parks or Naomi Wolf. She considers how we can fight against the social and economic injustices of modern times without resorting to violent struggle. As The Stranglers once sang, “something better change.”
In a sense then, Generals is a concept album, or certainly a set of protest songs. On the deceptively beautiful opener “Karma Debt”, Burhenn’s plaintive, die-away voice portrays making music as a means to an end (“We hold our horns like credit cards/and hope to pay the rent”) yet she would “give it all for a legacy of love”. This sense of expediency runs through the ten-track offering. The garage-rocky title song is a literal call to arms, invoking her sister spirits to help her upturn the status quo. However, the song is a bit of a sledgehammer compared to the subtlety of many of the others where Burhenn focuses more on individual action making a difference; “can’t change the weather/but we sure can change our shoes”, as she remarks in “Buffalo Flower”.
But don’t get the idea that the album is preachy. The revolution can also extend to dance. “Radiator Sister” with its simple hook could be a T-Rex outtake. The ultra percussive “Body Of Work” combines a hoe-down melody with handclaps and polyrhythms and still manages to quote Sartre on freedom. Producer Richard Swift, who also worked with Laura Burhenn on Flood, brings some inventive sounds to the party, which reaches a peak on the album’s stand-out, the wonderfully emotive “Mightier Than The Sword”. From the torch-like piano and vocal opening verses, subtly amplified by voice and synth loops, the song builds into an orchestral feast, replete with bells and cymbal crashes. It’s worth buying the album for this song alone, but you’re likely to be moved by the whole shebang.
Essential Tracks: “Karma Debt”, Mightier Than The Sword”, and “Body Of Work”.