The 1989 all-star double-CD set “Greenpeace Rainbow Warriors (Disc 2)” is a fascinating collection of tracks by a who’s who of modern and roots rock at the time (for this review, only the second platter is discussed—I’ll get to disc 1 if I can find it). It continues the proud tradition of high-profile rock performers banding together to help a worthy non-profit cause that started with George Harrison’s 1971 “Concert for Bangladesh” recording and was continued by the 1979 “No Nukes” triple live album (double CD when reissued in 1997).
However, “Greenpeace Rainbow Warriors” is not a live ensemble but a collection of some of the best of what the 1980s had to offer. Assembled to raise money for the mission of the Greenpeace non-governmental environmental organization to protect whales and other sealife and a raft of other ecological causes, artists like Peter Gabriel, Simple Minds, John Cougar Mellencamp, Bryan Adams and Sade donated use of some of their best A-sides for this compilation.
Overall, the theme of the album is one of hope and sometimes defiance of authority—a natural attitude for the namesake album of a small ship that attempts to block large whalers in the open oceans. Another overriding subtext of the album is the reoccurrence of imagery of water.
The CD opens with Simple Minds doing a live version of “Waterfront.” Lead singer/guitarist Jim Kerr hoarse singing style and all revs up the crowd. Most famous for their top pop hit “Don't You (Forget About Me)” from the movie The Breakfast Club, “Waterfront” is more representative of their gritty, working-class sound but embellished with keyboards. Continuing on, Peter Gabriel croons his best on “Red Rain” with the water washing away all iniquity. As in baptism, the red rain has the power to expiate sin. Like much of Gabriel’s material, “Red Rain” has an ethereal, dream-like quality.
The liquid metaphor continues on “Greenpeace Rainbow Warriors” with the Waterboys offering an ode on “The Whole of the Moon.” One of the rock critics’ favorites in the late 1980s, the Waterboys combine Celtic musical influences from their native Scotland with a light rock sensibility. It’s quite infectious as you singalong to the chorus of the title, keeping time as you tap your toes.
Irish group Hothouse Flowers follows up the water theme again with “Hard Rain.” Although heralding from the Emerald Isle, the Hothouse Flowers channel their inner soul effectively to survive the hard rain in the ghetto. The tune really pumps with the piano playing a central role. It has the feel of a good jam from accomplished jazz musicians.
The disc saves one of the most legendary performers for close to the end in the person of Robbie Robertson, formerly of The Band, Bob Dylan’s backing group on some of his seminal electric work in the 1960s. In a half-song, half-spoken-word performance, Robertson takes a journey “Somewhere Down the Crazy River.” Throughout Greek Mythology and Biblical Scripture, rivers have played important roles as conduits, barriers, boundaries and sources of renewal. Robertson’s journey is more modern with the river standing in as a symbol for his urban meanderings to Nick’s Café. Robertson brings a quality of world-weariness to this track packed with allusions and other figurative language devices.
Considering this is the trailing CD in the two-disc set, it makes me wonder what I’ll find on “Greenpeace Rainbow Warriors (Disc 1)”—provided it’s still somewhere to be found. It’s such a revelation and revitalization, the sound just washes over me. Hopefully you can hold on with me.