System of a Down — “B.Y.O.B.”

Released: 8.2.05

Peak: # 27

“Why are there no more protest songs?” youth-disparaging Boomers wonder, as though the culture industry existed solely to assuage their fears of encroaching adolescent complacency. (“I learned it by watching you!!!”) The implication that ’60s pop was all no-more-war and power-to-the-people overlooks the fact that the clearest political stance the Beatles ever took was against taxes, and that Dylan only got great once his lyrics doubled in on themselves. Pop, rock, rap, even folk can refract political issues in meaningful ways. But to expect a catchy tune to change the world all on its own bespeaks some serious cart and horse placement issues.

Still, with a real war (or two) to galvanize resistance, and a real jerk in the White House, some sort of nominal pop protest was in order. Green Day took their shot, but misplaced their aggression: the anti-rube “American Idiot” turned its guns on any fellow citizen less enlightened than Billy Joe, while the pacifist “Holiday” dithered in the face of the military-industrial complex with “I beg to dream and differ from the hollow lies.” The less said about the Beastie Boys’ half-conciliatory “In a World Gone Mad” or Bright Eyes’ wholly unhinged “When the President Talks to God” the better.

But as 21st century anti-war rock goes, “B.Y.O.B.” is a blast. No, “Victorious victories kneel/ For brand new spanking deals” doesn’t quite stick it to Halliburton, but that spastic, neurotic thrashy is just the sort of tantrum that a duplicitous war regime deserves. And for the thoughtful protester, Serj and his boys drop a disingenuous question. After all, we know exactly why presidents don’t fight the war, and we know why they always send the poor too. The question is why do the poor always agree to go? And if that’s far too broad a question for a pop song to clear up, they’ve got a partial answer: The war in Iraq is a big party, just like the ones you’ve seen in the commercials. Bring yer own bombs.

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