This album did and still does sound amazing and I can still sing you every politically-inspired word of it.
I was fourteen in 1987 and so far, the Rock 'n' Roll world I'd experienced was all about wheels made of steel, lovin' it loud, rocking all over the world and the health of your Metal. So, when I switched on BBC2 at six o'clock to watch the "teen culture" programme 'No Limits' (primarily to swoon over the rather lovely Jenny Powell... although they did actually play stuff like ZZ Top, Kiss and David Lee Roth... yes, on terrestrial TV, it really did happen) and was completely captivated by the staccato riff and clever mix of Western and Latin rhythms on a song called 'Bitter Fruit', the multi-coloured, animal print, feather shouldered and bandanna adorned Little Steven could have been singing about a particularly disappointing satsuma for all I knew. Instead, this politically motivated song was shining a light on oppression and corporate greed in Central America, the ex-E Street Band member (not that I even knew who the E Street Band were back then...) trading lines with Rubén Blades as the pair swaggered on stage and clanked cowbells. To me they were having far too good a time to be being "serious" and yet when I rushed out to buy the album the song came from, 'Freedom - No Compromise', that weekend, I tried to play it cool when the older guys in the guitar shop inspected my latest purchase (up until that point, usually something along the lines of Iron Maiden, Van Halen, Metal Church or Kiss) and were impressed by my growing political conscience (errrrrm, okay).
So 'No More Parties' wasn't about staying at home on a Saturday night with a cup of cocoa? 'Can't You Feel the Fire' wasn't recounting those day-trips away toasting marshmallows over an open flame? To be fair, even in my ignorance, there was no getting away from songs like 'Pretoria', 'Sanctuary' or 'Trail Of Broken Treaties' being overtly protest in their nature and to Stevie Van Zandt's credit, they did make me go and discover what they may (or may not) be about. Everything from US politics, South American corruption, apartheid and much more placed in the spotlight.
For many, 'Freedom - No Compromise' was actually Little Steven's weakest effort since The Boss announced he'd been 'Born In The USA' and ditched his band, but I didn't even know of 'Men Without Women', 'Voice Of America', or indeed Van Zandt's's now defunct Disciples Of Soul (a name that immediately turned off this "metal kid" anyway, even if they did feature future Crown Of Thorns man Jean Beauvoir). What I did know, however, was that the mix of Pop, Rock, Americana, Latin and electronics that the man himself had beautifully over produced was unlike anything else I'd bought, or indeed enjoyed, in my musical journey so far. For a kid who, up to this point, struggled to see past anything wearing denim or leather, it was a secret, guilty pleasure and an eye opener. It also opened my door to artists like Bruce Springsteen (who sings co-vocals on 'Native American'), Tom Petty, Neil Young and many, many more who looking back aren't so far removed from the music I was listening to, but in 1987, in my early-teens, felt worlds apart. It also made me realise the power and potency of music and the messages it could convey... something that seems lost on the younger generation these days, I'm sorry to say.
So is 'Freedom – No Compromise' a true classic album? No, probably not, in fact, it's probably not even Little Steven's best, but alongside the even less guitar-based 'Revolution' that he released two years later, this album was and remains one of my favourites of all time. Yes, it made me aware of so many things I'd been oblivious to up to that point and yes it broadened my musical horizons, but the most important thing is that this album did and still does sound amazing and I can still sing you every politically-inspired word of it.