"The nature of the jailer is to do just what he pleases/But when we hang another man/Part of us dies with him/Lock up your soul piece by piece/Then tell me just what love is", McKeown sings in "The Jailer". When it comes to arguments about capital punishment, most people talk about vengeance or its effectiveness as a deterrent. Some might question a state's right to take a person's life and others play on people's fears. However, hardly anybody looks at the cost passed down to every citizen when a government kills their fellow citizens in their name. McKeown asks us to consider what's being taught when the law allows people to be killed. How can we really understand what love is when we sanction murder? When an individual kills another person, it's a horrendous crime against love and yet it's not when the state does it? Doesn't anyone else find that confusing?
Even the more overtly political song, "Baghdad to the Bayou", isn't what I'd call typical of the genre. Instead of a litany of complaints or an attack on somebody or something, it expresses the hope generated by the people's revolts that have been occurring around the world. "Street by street we will repeat/The revolutions of the spring/You can't stop a people/When a people start to sing". Referencing both the Occupy Movements and the Arab Spring, the song puts leaders everywhere on notice people aren't as inclined to be as unquestioningly obedient as they might have been in the past. The last line of the last verse, "We want accountability", captures what's been at the heart of each of those movements.
In doing so MeKeown and co-writer Rachel Maddow have managed to bring back the feelings of hope these movements generated. Some of the dreams may have soured, Egypt has taken some nasty steps backwards and none of the occupations seem to have changed anything, but that doesn't mean people have gone back to sleep again. There have been too many examples in recent years of how a concentrated effort by a motivated population can be a powerful force for change. "Baghdad to the Bayou" is a spirited and timely reminder for all of us who may have forgotten what's been accomplished over the past few years.