May 09, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT
We gave it a B

The pleasure of Bern’s records has always been the roller-coaster ride between his topical folkie wit and his unlikely desire to be a heartland roots rocker. So maybe these discs should’ve been a twofer. Swastika could’ve been called The Hot Button EP; it weaves polemics and punchlines with a humanity Bill Maher should study. Opening with ”Talkin’ Al Kida Blues,” it reclaims the titular icon in the spirit of the Marx Brothers, and ends with a searing meditation on the impossibility — and importance — of fleeing history. Swastika’s stripped-down music has to run to keep up with the oratory, unlike the Mellencampy Fleeting Days, which has some of the most well-built songs of Bern’s career. But except for the one about puking up Waffle House cheese grits en route to Graceland, the heart-baring Days is short on the head-turning lyrics of his best stuff. BIGGER BALLS In December, the tireless Bern followed up his signature ”Tiger Woods” with World Cup, an EP-book combo flashing more sports-obsessed sociology. Swastika: A- Days: B

You May Like