Recording information: Circle House Studios; Spice Mix.
While Michael Franti's 2013 LP All People was a rollercoaster ride over angry lows and harrowing highs, there was also its smooth, miniature techno cut "Long Ride Home," a song where the album took a winning turn toward personal and small. Three years later, Soulrocker is Franti's commonly accepted "electronic" effort, where bass-drops and EDM ideas mesh with guitars and flip-flop music, and it is an album where the band called Spearhead are sometimes reduced to laptop and drum machine. The good news is that "My Lord" is the chugging EDM-meets-rootsy-music tune that producers like Avicii have tried to achieve as of late, and with so many of Franti's songs aiming for a crowd singing in unison, bright dance music is an easy fit. Some of Soulrocker could be packaged as a superior remix collection and no one would know the difference, but the easy electro of "Long Ride Home" returns to chill many of these tracks, and there's an argument that the singer/songwriter gets more personal and deeper when blinking LEDs and LCD screens replace his band. "Get Myself to Saturday" ("There was a part of me that can't go on today/And there's a part of me that always finds a way") is a prime example, with honest and vulnerable lyrics coming from a man who kicked off his career with the political attack squads the Beatnigs and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. "My Favorite Wine Is Tequila" may go the full Jimmy Buffett, but a classic, vintage reggae sample makes it the right kind of cheeky, and if the strings on "Love Will Find a Way" are synthetic, the song and the performance are still angelic, connecting immediately and giving Franti his own "Redemption Song." All that said, "We Are All Earthlings" is like a Greenpeace sticker plastered over a Recycle sticker stuck on a flyer for clean water, and Franti covers the same ground (grew up confused, got mad at the world, then things got better) on a couple autobiographical songs. These small complaints just keep it from being his bona fide best, and the biggest complaint would be that this is considered an EDM album and nothing more. It is electro, but Soulrocker is also inspired, warm, and inviting, plus in parts, it is diminutive in the best sense of the word. ~ David Jeffries