For the Love of Music owes itself entirely to the extraordinary state of Mike Park’s psyche. It gives him authority to declare that his “songs about politics, racism & everyday life” are worth two shits when they are not. His ruminations on these genuinely significant themes take the form of all your favorite punk rock slogans (which, given his indie ska/punk roots as the singer of Skankin’ Pickle and the founder of Asian Man Records, is understandable) — stuff like “Equate the words, express yourself / Lift up your arms today” and “It’s time to wake up from this early death you choose” (Death = conformity, conformity = death. Get it?).
Racism gets a similarly heavy-handed treatment. “From Korea” effectively captures the blunted shock of hearing a new friend use “the word nigger in casual speak.” It’s a powerful moment, and the most resonant lyric on the album. But Park follows it up with a silly, ill-conceived clunker of a chorus: “I’m not like you / I’m from Korea / My eyes are small / But your eyes are closed.”
Hey, there’s no question Park is sincere in his mission to engender “positive change through music,” as he writes in his Plea for Peace Foundation plug in the liner notes. And since I’m not as heartless as I perhaps sound, I’ll give it a plug, too: www.pleaforpeace.com. But what bugs me about Park’s music is his clear belief that sincerity equals profundity, ipso facto, which, if true, would mean that every sentimental schlub with an acoustic guitar and something resembling a life is an artistic genius. Guy from Dashboard Confessional, I’m looking in your direction.
Speaking of which, Dashboard makes for a handy musical comparison. For the Love of Music is all acoustic; hence the title, explains Park in the liner notes (rest assured he isn’t in this business “for Capitalist gain or status recognition”). The music is just yer basic guitars-bass-drums, with some cello and violins in a couple songs. It isn’t loud and the melodies aren’t particularly interesting. Park is occasionally capable of pulling off some pretty neat Dashboard-esque soaring choruses, but more often than not he isn’t.
In the end, what’s most annoying about For the Love of Music is the overwrought sincerity and egotism found within (the liner notes are a veritable photo album of Park, from “Baby” to “Kindergarten w/ Mrs. Brisky” to “Braces — 1990” right up to the kissy-faced current model). I’m sure Park would argue it’s his sincerity that makes his music so real and deeply felt. I say he overestimates our interest in him and his problems; worse, he doesn’t have the tunes to back his argument up.
And that’s all I have to say about For the Love of Mike Park.