Cui Jian's first album in close to a half-decade, 1999's The Power of the Powerless finds the Beijing-based singer/songwriter moving away from the mixture of traditional Chinese music and western rock & roll that defined earlier albums like Solution and Balls Under the Red Flag. The traditional influence in particular is greatly reduced, which is a shame since the way Cui Jian would combine the two seemingly incompatible musical traditions is not only the most interesting thing about his music, but also the key to his entire musical and social philosophy. The Power of the Powerless also introduces a new, rap-influenced vocal style, especially on the powerful, funk-influenced "Spring Festival" and the cacophonous opener, "Slackers," on which his hectoring vocal, sneering lyrics castigating the apolitical and lazy young, and muscular, largely electronic rap-rock backing resembles nothing so much as a Chinese version of Rage Against the Machine. Other tracks, like the moody, flute-decorated "Night of the Times" (the chorus of which bears a strong resemblance to Cui Jian's best-known hit, "Nothing to My Name") and the mysterious "Fresh Flesh Rock and Roll" will be reassuringly familiar to longtime fans.
The Power of the Powerless Review
by Stewart Mason