A spiritual message sung in a plaintive tenor, "Zither" sets the tone of the album, which ranges from delicate acoustic finger-picking to storming, effects-laden, electric guitar blow-outs.
Beyond playing all the guitars and keyboards heard on the record, Morgan proves himself a supple, earnest vocalist -- evocative of a less melodramatic Jeff Buckley or the younger Sting -- wrapping righteous socio-political convictions in Rundgrenesque Anglo-pop confections such as "Wake Up Freedom," "Falling Down," and "Blood Red."
The industrial-strength "Bottom Line" and the shuffling "I Get Around" are both tied into the album's titular concerns. "In 'Bottom Line,' the music business is just a metaphor," says Morgan. "Our whole society is built on the idea that if you work real hard, you might get a break. But then you realize that it's not how hard you try, it's about how much you can sell yourself."
The jazzy, minor-key "Pollution Blues" addresses burning ecological issues with a blazing guitar fade that parallels and echoes the fiery images and fretgrinding exit found in "Falling Down."
A gently percussive "Nov 26, 2004" serves as a peaceful refuge from the album's opening salvo. "That song is designed to be a palate-cleanser," explains Morgan, "as if it were the last cut on the first side of the album, which -- in the case of the vinyl version of The Ambition Tax -- it is."
Underscoring the album's release date, the flamenco-flavored "4th Of July" is -- in Morgan's words -- "meant to be celebratory, but narcissism keeps creeping into the picture, leading to the singlemindedness that plagues this country," as evidenced in the National Anthem-quoting vocal refrain that erupts out of the parade drumming-driven "Amerika."
The album's closing tracks, the inexorably building "Close" and the pop standard-inspired "In The Heart," are love songs that yearn for a simpler life that remains tantalizingly out of reach ... for now.
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