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Music Review: Propagandhi — Potemkin City Limits

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What attracted me to punk music thirty years ago was its total lack of pretension. It said what it had to in a raw, unadulterated way which drove the point of the songs with all the finesse of a jackhammer.

Since those early pioneering days, punk has become something of a fashion statement, and I find it amusing to see fifteen year old high school students with faux Mohawks, lip, nose, and tongue rings wearing ripped “Never Mind the Bullocks” t-shirts. It seems that punk has developed a sense of pretentiousness after all.

Nowhere is this pretentiousness more apparent than the October 2005 release from Propagandhi, Potemkin City Limits. So far is this album from the roots of punk, singer Glen Lambert strives to over-pronounce the lyrics in an effort to say “Hey, listen, this is really important!” Sadly, the material here really isn’t anything to get overly excited about, unless you are unaware that the United States is an imperial war machine bent on the destruction of all the things we humans cherish. Perhaps this isn’t news for old fart anarchists like me. But for the new teen punk fashionistas, it may be the message they’re just dying to hear.

Certainly punk was always about honing the message to a youth market. But I have to wonder if Propagandhi’s anti-war anthems are wasted on a group of youths more interested in appearing to be punk than actually living its squalid values. After all, what the youths of today know about punk they can find on television at almost any point in the day. Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” blares in the background of a cruise line commercial, and The Ramones are used to sell everything from soda to pre-paid cell phones. Considering how politically ambivalent most Americans are these days, it seems like Propagandhi’s efforts at fury are being shouted into a long and vacuous tunnel that absorbs the group’s sound rather than reverberate with its purpose.

There is a place for music that takes a political position, especially now. However, in order for punk music to foment the change it was created to bring the messages need to be direct, in your face, and sans vague metaphor giving a sense of artfulness to that message. While the genre is filled with tremendous examples of experimentation, Propagandhi sounds like they want to make a commercial reproduction of punk, joining two styles that are antecedents of each other. While that might please the poseurs, it does a disservice to the true essence of punk.

I suppose elements of every generation will try to impersonate the social movements that preceded them and there will always be bands like Propagandhi out there with their guitar cases open, ready to collect the cash from the trend followers. But it would be very refreshing during these times of anything-goes capitalism to hear these bands really commit themselves to the movement’s values they’re so willing to exploit.

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About Larry

  • Daniel

    I’m also late, but I’d like to tell the above commenter to shut up.

    The review is useless. The fact that it makes only one sideways reference to the actual music itself, and the fact that the reviewer was more than happy to heap praise on Towers of London (see link above) are conclusive evidence of that.

    Todd Kowalski and the rest of Propagandhi are the furthest thing from posers; your comment is simply pathetic. Those guys follow their words with actions. If Todd felt like spending a few minutes having a laugh with a reviewer that has no idea what he’s on about, so what? You’d have people just keep quiet and get walked over, right? Exactly what Propagandhi are against.

  • kenk

    I know I’m coming to this thread a little late, but I have to say that it comes off as a little pathetic that Mr. Kowalski has to argue with a music critic… The more he argues with Mr. Sakin the more CORRECT Mr. Sakin becomes. While the *music* of Propaghandi tends to “rock”, the lyrics can BE kinda…. pretentious.

    The only thing worse that *reading one’s reviews* is getting into an insult match with the reviewer, which just makes you look like a petty dipsh*t, not an “artist”.

    I think Mr. Sakin was ON to something… I think the ‘ideal’ rocker/punk/thrash attitude should be “not giving a f—“, having that much confidence in the music, making JUST what one WANTS to make…

    All evidence from this thread makes me think that Kowalski is something of a douchebag, which is disappointing, since I kind of liked the *music*. Now I’m left thinking he’s kind of a poser, worried about what some critic said…

    Oh well… Yeah, i’m about 3 years late for this thread!

  • Beards for Causes

    “Propagandhi sounds like they want to make a commercial reproduction of punk, joining two styles that are antecedents of each other. While that might please the poseurs, it does a disservice to the true essence of punk.”

    Propagandhi, not punk. I’d be ashamed to call them punk. I’m pretty sure the wonderful beginnings of punk are more than enough disservice to it’s “assence”… You like the wordplay? I know you do. Punk was branded and sold before most of us were born, and instead of shouting some vague rant about “government” I think the context and the direct attention that Propagandhi put into their lyrics speaks volumes more than “Anarchy in the UK” or some other rebel drivel from the 70’s that you cherish so much. Old man complaining about all these new things those darned kids are doing!

    “I suppose elements of every generation will try to impersonate the social movements that preceded them and there will always be bands like Propagandhi out there with their guitar cases open, ready to collect the cash from the trend followers. But it would be very refreshing during these times of anything-goes capitalism to hear these bands really commit themselves to the movement’s values they’re so willing to exploit.”

    ^ That’s just funny and so ridiculous as any fan of this band would tell you. I’m not perfect but I at least make sure I have a little bit of knowledge from SOME credible source before I go shitting golden nuggets of wisdom. Kudos to you sir! I’m sure your blogs will continue to provide a wealth of knowledge and alert many of the evil, corrupt gains of this corporate death machine known as Propagandhi. Thanks for the warning!

    By the way, when writing a review… y’know, about an album… maybe you should critique things like, y’know… the actual sound… maybe provide some actual examples… instead of digs at the personal actions of a group… unless you’d like to change the review to just “Propagandhi” and strike the album name… I mean shit, at least then it makes sense, right?

  • unkown

    Propagandhi is one of the most influential, die hard punk group of individuals in the punk scene right now. They are very inspiring, thanks guys for being a sick band!!!

  • fatima

    now that i re read that i realize that i am kinda exaggerating on the doing something about it part, because i havent, unless you count vegetarianism…but what im trying to say is that im young and i listen to the band even though the lyrics arent in my face. Just needed to clear that up.

  • Fatima

    Its not that the kids don’t understand the message because its not “ in your face” its just that kids don’t want to understand the lyrics because then they would need to do something about it and they are to lazy for that.
    So the point of the band is not for those kids, but for the ones like me who hear the message, want to know more about it, and want to do something about it.
    I’m 14. I am “kid of today”. I love this band, Even though they’ve been going for quite some time I’m grateful that they’re still making albums and that my generation has bands like Propagandhi that sing about today’s problems and the need to solve them. I like how the lyrics make me think beyond what I already know, unlike most bands. I completely love how they seem to object to almost everything and anything, how nothing is off limits to question or defy. Okay Im ranting but I do have this to say, in my opinion.
    Music has been slowly declining in quality through the years, your know it, I know it, however Propagandhi is not a band to point out when explaining this.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Oh I get, being truly “punk” is all about being consistent with your image and liking what you’re supposed to like. Cool, can I join?

  • J.DeJong


    ’nuff said

  • Michael Spector

    Potemkin City Limits is one of the most passionate, moving, shredding awesome albums ever. As is Today’s Empires Tomorrow’s Ashes. Propagandhi is probably the purest-intentioned rock band on earth. Larry Sakin knows not of what he speaks.

  • Bill- While Eric certainly wrote it much more eloquently than I did, the point of my article is pretty much the same.

    Whether or not punk has reached its nadir is in the mind of the listener. Clearly, you believe punk hasn’t gotten there yet and I do. Neither of us are wrong or right. We’ve only reached different conclusions.

  • Bill

    “Punk’s not dead it just deserves to die when its become another stale cartoon a close minded,self centered social club ideas don’t matter it who you know” “If the musics got boring its because of the people who want everything to sound the same Who drive the bright people of our so-called scene ’til all that’s left is just a meaningless fad.” – Jello Biafra

    Those words are as meaningfull today as they were in 1986. These are lyrics you could learn from Larry.

  • Todd- Maybe one of these days we can meet up at a Hair Club for Men.

  • Haha..unfortunately it is me!I think I am balding too and need a friend.I think I like Larry.

  • Kim V.

    why are people even debating with this fathead? he’s so unfamiliar with the past 20 years of political punk rock that he’s managed to lump the canadian moral equivalent of fugazi in with avenged sevenfold. you may as well discuss the impact of born against and los crudos with a 60 year old grateful dead fanatic. you’d get the same level of “insight”. and if that really is todd from propaghandi responding to this thread, shame on you for encouraging this sad old balding man. you have better things to do, do you not?

  • Todd, I would address yor last comment except it was so convoluted it is hard to know where to begin. In any event, I’m happy you were trashing your heart out at 13. That truly speaks to your credentials and further confirms that you are the embodiment of punk music.

  • To ‘idiocyi’- Pretty strong accusation from someone hiding behind a screen name. So easy to spew when you have no accountability for your words, isn’t it. But again, like Todd you’re obviously the real deal; nothing pretentious about you either.

    No where in either the original article nor followup comments was it stated or implied that the people written of do not have real experiences or are unable to make artistic choices for themselves. Although, it’s interesting that you interpret it that way.

  • Lar, I was saying that I was from a small town.Don’t worry, we all know I know you were a big New Yorker who apparently was having a great time at a Patti Smith poetry reading at the age of 13. At exactly that age I was thrashing as hard as I could to some of the greatest bands of that/my generation. I would not trade that for a poetry reading, or CBGB’s any day.I know about all the bands you talk about. Yes,music history is good.I prefer to listen to other bands that are faster and more exciting.
    By the way, we don’t need more of your credentials. haha…

  • Idiocyi

    Larry Sakin thinks that “only a poser” would judge him based on his photo, but thinks nothing of completely condemning others who he literally knows nothing about. What an awesome journalist.

  • Please read the following again:

    “I also know I cut my musical teeth hosting live punk shows with the Germs, X, Fleshtones among others passing through Arizona…” So I wasn’t just a ‘casual observer’. And New York City a small town? Surely you know CBGB’s, Mudd Club and Max’s Kansas City were all NYC clubs. Anyone familiar with punk would know those clubs right away.

    But I can tell that you Todd, are the genuine article- no pretention at all.

  • Hahaha…Way to go being born before me,Lar!My hero!I know you’re a very pretentious guy but keep in mind that other people were kids who loved music ,lived in small towns and caught every single show that came their way.By the way,you’re not too late to die live and die in squalor.What an amazing achievement.

  • to ‘haha’- a picture of me is readily available on the net, although am unsure what you believe that will prove. What one ‘looks like’ has nothing to do with their experiences or their artistic preferences. Only a poser would believe otherwise.

  • Expert- I don’t know about that. I do know that when you were about three years old, I was hanging out at CBGB’s watching Patti Smith give free poetry recitals; going to see Television at the Mudd Club and Max’s among other bands like the NY Dolls, James Chance and the Contortions, and DNA.

    I also know I cut my musical teeth hosting live punk shows with the Germs, X, Fleshtones among others passing through Arizona when you were about six. Expert? No, just completely f*cking immersed for many years.

    Considering the whole movement was practically over in the US before it started, I’m unsure how you can claim the punks of the day “cashed in”. Sure, a few did; that’s always the case in the music biz. For the most part though, punk musicians ‘back in the day’ lived and died in squalor.

    I find it notable that a supposed punk musician as yourself is historically unaware of the genre you emulate. Perhaps this is where we are failing to communicate.

  • haha

    I suggest people do a search for a picture of this larry sakin guy. Then this will all make much more sense.

  • Once again, Larry, I am very confident in the fact that in 20 plus years we have never tried to cash in unlike most of your punk hero’s from back in the day.
    But you are the “Punk” expert here, you were after all the “music executive”.

  • Because Todd, the two follow hand in hand. Punk as a fashion statement by kids who weren’t even around to know what the rebelling was about. A band sporting a punk pose in order to cash in. Both are an insult to the original message of punk.

  • Larry, to think the bands music, and presentation sucks is quite reasonable, I enjoyed that part. However, it seems as though the bulk of your review is based on assumptions about us that you do not have any basis for. I wonder why you bothered?

  • mind-boggled

    this is the most unintentionally hilarious review i’ve read in a long time. it’s as if corky from “life goes on” wrote a review of “crime and punishment”. cute, but comical.

  • Phil

    The musical style on this album is only marginally punk to being with, a fact the reviewer fails to mention. I would suggest that the musical style is the most notable aspect of this album – it is fast, yes, but follows the conventions of metal far more than any type of punk.

    Lyrically, Propagandhi have always adhered to extreme political viewpoints. That they refine and improve this style should be applauded, not dismissed as some gimmick. They have been doing this for twenty plus years.

    It is also notable that the record label that the members of this band run and use to release their own music is based on participatory economics, a radical but functional model that follows the tradition of cooperatively-run business. They are, unlike virtually every other political-punk band in existence, living the politics they preach. It is not necessary to mention this in a record review, but it is foolish to demean the band for their political orientation while not taking this significant fact into account. This isn’t Green Day ranting about George Bush, even if that is what you really, really want it to be.

    And seriously, if you think this album is geared towards 14-year-olds who loved “Ska Sucks” you really need to reacquaint yourself with the music of modern youth culture. If Propagandhi wanted to make another fun, political pop-punk album I am sure it is within their capabilities to do so. They could make plenty of money off of a “How to Clean Everything Part II”. They chose not to, thank god, and let’s give them a little credit for that decision, instead of reflexively lumping them into the pop-political-punk bandwagon.
    If you really must vent, go rant about whatever piece of shit Anti-flag is pushing on the masses these days.

  • Jrod

    There was no sign on the front of the album saying “Punk Classic”, so why talk of it as trying to be that. Propagandhi never claimed the album to be a punk album, so judge it on the music. Changing from their roots is a good thing, it means the band is progressing, not just pulling out the same songs.

  • stijn

    Ok,”singer Glen Lambert strives to over-pronounce the lyrics in an effort to say “Hey, listen, this is really important!” Sadly, the material here really isn’t anything to get overly excited about, unless you are unaware that the United States is an imperial war machine bent on the destruction of all the things we humans cherish. ”

    This is not news, but what is? Love songs aren’t news, so are hate songs, they aren’t about giving information or educating people, it’s about sharing emotions and feeling to people who can relate to it. Maybe you have had your share of frustrations and are sick and tired of hearing the same messages over and over?? It’s strange that people are much less tired of love songs… I guess most people just like to hear positive thing and I can’t blame them. I too should be more positive, but until then I’ll listen to Propagandhi…

    Oh, and I like the fact that the lyrics are overly pronounced. I rather hear words with more then 3 syllabils (sorry if misspeld, I’m Dutch) then endless repetitions of yeahs, oohs and aahs…

  • stijn

    I’d like to quote a mad caddies song : ‘ We’ ll start to worry when the cynics start believing’.

  • hey larry! forget the lyrics. imagine you only have the music. what are remainders? in my opinion – brilliant played and perfectly recorded progressive trash music. inspiring music. not punk. (maybe punkrock, but definitely not punk!! punk is sometnig else-the scene is maybe more or less the same, but not music, not music!) you are obvioulsy too old to accept that this kind of music can be (in musical way) inspiring for someone (younger than you). i’m musician, and i like all kinds of music..really all kinds (kinds that can be performed live and that have to be well rehearsed for playing live if you know what i mean) i’m 21 years old and i must say that ska and punkrock music gave me power to grow in musical way…(earlier when i was a little boy i listened to old school rock-like blood sweat and tears, allman brothers band and that kind of bands, but they didn’t have so strong impact on me (even they are! great bands-in musical and inspiring, creative way-they were perfect musicians, and i like them a lot even nowadays)

    i understand that every generation have it’s own musical views (they are driven from various influences when we are kids and adolescents)…but you are judging propagadhi for wrong reasons..they are simpy not trendy punk band! they are musicians, that are working hard, and doing music with which they can impersonalise themselfs..or how can be said different..music that they can identify themself with..and music that has notning to do with punk and trends…but you’re probably never understand…just i won’t probably never understand sometning similar in the future…when i’ll be old as you are;) in the end -all that is just my opinion…i’ll understand that you have yours..but, you must take a look at this particular album (and this particular scene) in wider picture (not in “wider” picture that you are looking around at the moment). but……..you’ll probably never see “my” picture. i understand.

    greetings from slovenia.

  • Generally, I refrain from commenting on other people’s critiques of my work. But it seems like some things need to be made clear here.

    My critique of Propagandhi’s “Potemkin City Limits” is not a review of the band itself, only this particular album. When put into context with other punk classics, “Potemkin City Limits” in my view doesn’t even come close to punk and in this sense, seemed extremely pretentious considering their body of past work.

    The fact that Propagandhi the band is on a small label and complain about Fat Mike’s distribution is nothing new. Every band complains about that– I remember Trent Reznor bitching in Option Magazine many years ago about the distribution methods of TeeVee Toons, the indie label he had been signed to before his major label debut. As for playing small venues, so what…? The Clash played the London Palladium right after their first album was released, X used to play the Whiskey when Los Angeles was released, and Television used to open for Iggy Pop at the Academy of Music, both of which are larger venues. Does this make The (early)Clash, Television, Iggy, or X any less punk?

    As for any critic checking out a band’s website to understand the group’s authenticity… listen, a critic comments on the music s/he’s listened to. If a critic has to check out a bands website to understand the group better, than the group hasn’t done a very good job defining itself in the album they’re presenting.

    Hope that clear’s things up a bit. In the meantime, I’ll prepare for another onslaught of comments. Thanks.

  • John

    You don’t review anything substantial here. To state that punk has become a pretentious and cliche thing is true. I’ll give you that.

    To put Propagandhi in that group is just ignorant. I would encourage you first to listen to this album, which it seems you haven’t. The structure is much closer to metal than punk rock, which is why they consider themselves “progressive-thrash”. On top of this, as a previous poster mentioned, they work off of a small label, openly lament their distributer “Fat Wreck Chords” (owned by Fat Mike of NoFX) and the gigs they play are very small, if they play them at all.

    Go catch them live if you can find them, you’ll find 3 Canadians in tight pants and trucker hats. Hardly indicative of what you say is the very indication of pretentious punk stylings.

  • Kristian

    Wow. “But it would be very refreshing during these times of anything-goes capitalism to hear these bands really commit themselves to the movement’s values they’re so willing to exploit.”

    Have you even looked at their website? Obviously not, since you are so intent on lumping any band that talks about political views as “ready to collect the cash from the trend followers.”

    Last I checked, Propagandhi is on an indie label, playing shows in venues holding less than 500 people…

    Perhaps you should refrain from reviewing music if you have a preconceived notion about what the band’s motives are, and are more interested in tooting your own horn in the process.

    Hopefully my review of your article is posted and not viewed as a ‘personal attack’ as your review most certainly is (although your attack is a misguided and uneducated one).

  • Barry

    you couldn’t have misunderstood this record and this band if you tried. it’s almost unbelievable. this wasn’t even a review. it was an op ed piece unrelated to the content of the album.

    it seems like you’re clearly out of touch with what is happening in punk rock these days. i’m 36 years old and while you’re right about punk in general, you’ve been the wrong band to pin modern punks crimes upon.

    a constructive criticism: do a little research about the bands, then do the review (and make it an actual review of the record).