An Out-Of-Work Music Critic Reviews Two Government Releases

by Benjamin Shanbrom

Paul Ryan: The Path to Prosperity
House of Representatives; 2011

This may be a debut proposal, but Paul Ryan sounds as if he’s been talking for years. Kicking off with head-spinning timetable changes and sky-shattering reconstructions to Healthcare, The Path is positively vicious. From massive entitlement crunch to barreling tax cut lows, this plan rips like a Martian gas-guzzler determined to alter civilized society for generations to come. Ryan spits a fantastic fallacy-laden flow with bold gestures and strong hand signals throughout — it seems he means bidness. His earnestness combined with the impressive production values that back the work, make for an inescapable impact, like a child’s awe at the ravaged ruins of Ephesus. This isn’t a promo for your laptop with those crappy Mac Book speakers — you’re going to want to blast this at Lossless, 320 kbps quality.

But the big news here is the plan’s concept. Set in post-apocalyptic America, a world Orwell could have all too easily crafted himself, this debut ushers the listener through the chilling, dystopian landscape of an alternate future, one where a weary proletariat carry the crushing burden of their own healthcare. Spooky stuff, but a little over the top. Here’s hoping we don’t get a neo-conservative space odyssey on Ryan’s next release.

The representative’s use of subtle instrumentation does, however, enhance the experience. Cimmerian string washes with piano trickle make for a haunting introduction to his sorrowing voice, while staccato cello runs close his work in truly bombastic fashion: “It is up to this generation to pick this path. The question is: will we do it, or not. It is up to us.”


Ryan’s angst is addicting. His lyrics are dramatic and heartfelt, recalling, at times, a budding, Republican Trent Reznor. Unfortunately, they don’t vary much from section to section and occasionally come off as a little ham-fisted. It sounds as if he just never got over that first big bailout of his teen years. Some more inspired content would have indubitably served the project better.

Splendidly bleak, deliciously dark and all together menacing, The Path to Prosperity is an engaging piece from start to finish. Alas, its appeal is rather transient. While its exclusively conservative style initially seems visceral and gripping, it quickly becomes boorish and one-note over repeat listens. Nevertheless, Ryan’s willingness to make risky aesthetic choices is commendable. If you were a fan of Neo Bush-era economic policy, pick this one up asap. All others may find this effort too polarizing (and vaguely apocalyptic) to make it all the way through.

Barack Obama: Remarks by the President on Fiscal Policy
The Executive Branch; 2011

After the release of Ryan’s solo debut, President Obama struck back with his own full-length take on the budget crisis. Recorded live at the prestigious George Washington University Auditorium, his work has a spontaneous grit and liveliness largely absent from Ryan’s muddily overproduced concept pitch. While Remarks may lack the stylish noir politics of The Path to Prosperity, it makes up for it with charisma and breadth. “These are the kinds of cuts that tell us we can’t afford the America that I believe in and I think you believe in,” the president bellows into the mic. Obama is in great form throughout, his warm baritone lubricating every point.

The first two tracks surge by in a loaded one-two punch. Beginning with a driving bipartisan backbeat, Obama leaps into a soaring chorus of continued discretionary spending. And believe me, you’ll have this one stuck in your head for weeks!

Following the opening piece, the ethos-filled “Cutting Defense Spending” sends the plan into full swing, featuring a welcome guest appearance by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen. His military background makes for a great contrast with Obama’s rich anti-Keynesian timbre.

The work also ends very memorably with the killer closing sentiment, “Allowing Bush-Era Tax Cuts to Expire.” Unfortunately, the plan falls a little flat in its most crucial movement, “Reducing Health Care Expenditures.” Epic liberal entitlement leads are ear-catching on first listen, but then shuffle sluggishly to a vague anti-climax. Likewise, heavier, more complex spending breakdowns would have undoubtedly been unpopular with mainstream audiences, but would have been invaluable to the impact and replay value of his plan.

Yet it seems churlish to harp on that point, especially when the voltaic live experience of Obama and his crowd is so captivating. Hearing his most striking sentiments resonating with an exuberant audience parallels the act of witnessing the reunion between two teary-eyed parents and their long-abducted child. Powerful, indeed.

Overall, Remarks by the President on Fiscal Policy is a promising release and a step in the right direction. Its centric influences make for a refreshing twist and its realism in many areas is compelling. The unique style and elements present will hopefully be developed in new plans down the road, but, for now, this is a policy you’ll definitely want to check out!

A recent graduate of Boston College, Benjamin Shanbrom spends his time blasting the skins in the Connecticut progressive alt-rock act Bushwhack and writing semi-witty rantings about music and other malarkey on Metal Sucks, 411mania, and his blog, Broken Sticks.