In the Trump era, the protest song can be properly angry — see Gary Clark Jr.’s “This Land.” But it can also be quiet and thoughtful, almost mournful, as if the onslaught of troubling news is simply too much to handle. Lana Del Rey’s breathy-folk response to mass shootings, “Looking for America,” is one example, and Jon Regen’s “Before” can now be added to that slowly growing pile.
Over a steady electro-pulse and a warm bath of synths, Regen, a New York-area singer, songwriter, pianist and journalist, reflects on what we’ve done to our world and what we can all do to salvage it before everything is ruined. “Before our children have to pay/For all the wreckage we have left,” he sings. “Before we can’t undo the damage we have done/Or turn the clock back and reset.”
Musically and lyrically, the net effect is reminiscent of Sting’s solo work–without the British accent but, coincidentally, with some tasteful guitar flourishes by way of Andy Summers. Summers isn’t the only bold-face involved here. The song also features bassist Larry Klein, who played with and produced Joni Mitchell during the Eighties and into the following decade, and drummer Jerry Marotta, known for working with a host of acts, especially Peter Gabriel.
Both “Before” and Regen’s entire Higher Ground album were produced by Jamiroquai’s Matt Johnson, and much of the album feels, not surprisingly, like a modern take on Jamiroquai’s sprightly blend of pop and R&B. “Before” stands apart, though. The song amounts to a series of unanswered questions about what anyone can do and how we’ll look back on the damage we’ve done, assuming the planet survives, and you can practically see the concerned frown on Regen’s face as he sings: “I want to know before I leave here /That this was more than just a chase /And when they look at us a century from now /We’ll stand for something more than shame.” It may not be the type of song chanted at a protest rally, but it may be the one you put on when you’re back home and hoping your presence made a difference.