John Sinclair - Beatnik Youth (Iron Man Records)

1960s underground figurehead remains as relevant as ever on eclectic new disc

Released Sep 8th, 2017 via Iron Man / By Norman Miller
John Sinclair - Beatnik Youth (Iron Man Records) Call him a renegade poet, psychedelic troubadour or counter-cultural revolutionary - John Sinclair has earned all those tags over a career dating back to the mean streets of 1960s America, when he had enough cultural clout for John Lennon to pen a song about him.

As co-founder of Detroit underground newspaper The Fifth Estate, manager of pioneering rock outfit MC5 and Chairman of the White Panther Party, Sinclair takes a pretty jaded view of life today in the DisUnited States – and life generally.

Sinclair delivers most of the tracks here in a gruff Tom Waits-style growl, creating caustic visions that he embeds in various musical styles that he switches between effortlessly - like the fabulous segue from the trippily spaced-out Brilliant Corners to the funked up Culture Cide, with its pointed reflections on how 'the United States got a war on people like us'.

Heavy blues infuse several tracks too, like the brilliant Everybody Needs Somebody and Ain't Nobody's Business, which pushes the idea that 'we have the right to our bad habits'. Add punky hooks on ditties like Good Stuff, soulful crooning – albeit ironic – on the bitter anti-love song That Old Man, and '70s blaxploitation grooves on Testify.

Cerebral musos will also love the range of name checks scattered throughout – poet Robert Lowell and The Beatles on one track, Ginsberg on the next. Every name check makes a point 'cos this guy is clever – clever enough that many of his more recent releases have been albums of poetry.

Sinclair has also teamed up with modern-day maestro/super producer Youth to create an accompanying 30-minute ambient album to this double CD song collection, in which tracks like Brilliant Corners morph into spacey jazzed out homages to Kerouac and Burroughs, while a smokily atmospheric Sitarrtha nods to John Coltrane.

Focused, furious and fearless, Sinclair may be an old 1960s legend but these songs have a hell of a lot to say to the 21st century.