What do they know?

Band Aid proves it's still clueless after all these years. Plus: Kiev's hottest rap riff and three songs from one of the year's best albums -- free.

Published December 8, 2004 9:00PM (EST)

It's the 20th anniversary of the original Band Aid charity record, which featured George Michael, David Bowie, Bono, Phil Collins, Boy George and others and raised staggering amounts of money for famine relief in Ethiopia. And to mark the occasion, organizer Bob Geldof has put together another superstar lineup, including Chris Martin, Dizzee Rascal, Dido and, again, Bono, to remake it. Like its predecessor, Band Aid 20 has churned out -- surprise, surprise! -- a hunk of sentimental garbage that has -- again, surprise! -- shot to the top of the U.K. charts.

But what's really astounding is that 20 years later -- 20 years down the road toward cultural sensitivity -- Geldof and his pals recorded the same incredibly clueless song, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" which features lines like "There won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime/ The greatest gift they'll get this year is life," "Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you" and, of course, the refrain "Do they know it's Christmastime at all?" I bet they don't, those poor little pagans.

The new version is barely different from the 1984 original, with just a few extra lines added by Dizzee ("Spare a little thought this yuletide for the deprived/ If the table was turned would you survive?") and some ad-libbed outro soul warbling from the absurd Joss Stone. And where can you find this delightful song? Well, if you live in the United States, where it's not available for sale, you can do as I did and go to your favorite file-sharing network and download a copy -- no doubt condemning my soul to eternal damnation for stealing a charity song. Or you could watch the video here. And how to solve the problem of hating the song but wanting its charitable mission to succeed? Band Aid Dilemma has a brilliant solution.

Also of note: "Razom Nas Bahato," a hurriedly made hip-hop track that has become the anthem of Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yuschenko's supporters. It's a pretty boring song if you don't understand Ukrainian, but it has apparently become ubiquitous in Kiev. The song's refrain, which translates as "Together we are many, we cannot be defeated," was borrowed from a slogan shouted by crowds protesting the election results, and now, days after being made available on the Internet, those same protesters have, in turn, taken up this song as their new rallying cry. Free download here, translation here.

"Diamond Halo Grenade," Beans, from "Shock City Maverick"
New York M.C. and producer Beans, late of the Antipop Consortium, informs us on his new record, "Shock City Maverick," that he is "the Ornette Coleman of this rap shit." Fair enough. Beans raps like the stream of consciousness of someone who is very imaginative, very witty and very fast. But his flow isn't just fast, it's also crooked, shifty -- listening to Beans rap leaves me feeling a little bit dyslexic. "Shock City Maverick" is an occasionally challenging listen -- I find Beans considerably more enjoyable as an M.C. than as a producer, fond as he is of confrontational beats made of harsh sounds that become aurally exhausting over the course of a whole album -- but his rapping is as impressive and tongue-twisterly as ever. "Diamond Halo Grenade," one of the few tracks that Beans did not produce (Mark Pritchard did), is also one of the record's best. Free Download: "Diamond Halo Grenade"

"Molested," The Vitamen, from "Fun"
The Vitamen, an unsigned three-piece New York band, play uncomplicated, upbeat pop-rock songs with sheepishly sung witty, mopey, often brutally self-deprecating lyrics. They are class purveyors of dork chic. The shtick is a little limited, though, and while the band's third album is about to be released, I have a feeling they'll never quite equal "Molested," the first track from their first record, with the most likely career-defining refrain "Was every girl on earth molested, or am I just bad in bed?" I'm also partial to "Can't Say It" (free download here) from last year's "Mujer," on which frontman Jesse Blockton pulls out a killer wimpy-white-boy soul falsetto. Free Download: "Molested"

"Jolene," The White Stripes, from "Under Blackpool Light" (DVD)
I'm not much of a White Stripes evangelist -- both because there are just too damn many of them already and because their attitude and posturing sometimes overwhelm their talent. But this live version of Dolly Parton's "Jolene," available for free download to promote the band's upcoming concert DVD "Under Blackpool Lights," with a great vocal performance from Jack White, is definitely worth a listen. White sounds like Robert Plant here -- Plant as filtered through, or rather lacerated by, the strangled vocal stylings of '90s indie rock. There are also some thrilling falsetto moments, when he sings with some of the desperate, ragged glory of Janis Joplin. He's truly a great rock vocalist. Free Download: "Jolene"

"Neighborhood #2 (Laika)" and "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)," The Arcade Fire, from "Funeral"
A great Arcade Fire show at the Bowery Ballroom last month (with the Davids, Byrne and Bowie, in attendance) spurred me to listen to "Funeral" again, and now I'm hooked -- it's certainly one of my favorite records released this year. When I wrote about the band a few months ago, there was just one track, "Wake Up," available for free download, but now there are three: "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)," maybe the New Waviest track on the record, is available for free download from, of all places, the Abercrombie & Fitch Web site, which has a page of free downloads that's updated every few weeks; "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)," with a swooning accordion and violin melody that seems to be trying to comfort desperate, grief-stricken vocalist Win Butler, is available from Better Propaganda. Grab "Wake Up" (free download here) if you didn't get it before and you'll have three tracks from one of the year's best records. That should be more than enough to persuade you to buy the whole thing. Free Downloads: "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)" and "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)"

"Goin' Downtown," McRorie
Canadian one-man band extravaganza McRorie Tait wears, according to his Web site, "eight custom-designed sensors on his shoes, four sensors on his chest and two midi keyboards on his hips." What the Web site doesn't mention is that he also sports a kilt and a mullet. The whole visual package is pretty overwhelming. The music is another matter. Tait plays a wide variety of material (most of it covers of hit songs, but also some originals), but it all seems to come out sounding like the worst of the '80s. Then again, as his Web site stresses, it is all played live -- just one man, with no overdubs, no prerecorded tracks. And that's pretty astounding. To get the full experience, go to Tait's Web site and watch the video clip with scenes of him playing live. Nothing more than a novelty -- but goodness, what a novelty! Free Download: "Goin' Downtown"

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Have an opinion about this week's downloads? Check out the Wednesday Morning Download thread on Table Talk.

By Thomas Bartlett

Thomas Bartlett is a writer and musician in New York. He maintains a blog called doveman.

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