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"No sun will shine in my day today"

Class C

Main Category: Reggae
Also applicable: --------
Starting Period: The Interim Years
Also active in: The Punk/New Wave Years, The Divided Eighties




Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Bob Marley fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Bob Marley fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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This will sound trite, but here goes anyway: I don't know much about reggae, I'm definitely not a ganja-obsessed reggae fan, and frankly speaking, on a purely religious level I find the entire Rastafarian movement rather silly. But Bob Marley's music is definite proof that if your belief in something, even in something really silly, is profound and obstinate, you have all the chances to emerge with something otherworldly.

It's often a difficult and dangerous task to try and find the father of a musical genre, but in the case of Marley, the answer is simple: Bob Marley and the Wailers created reggae by crossing more traditional Jamaican ska rhythms with R'n'B, gospel and blues. And in doing so, they have certainly provided one of the main standing points for the New Wave movement - let us not forget the deep impact Marley and Co. had on bands like the Clash, and more importantly, that the Police took the reggae sound and created a whole new type of pop music based on its minimalistic chuggin' rhythms and 'economic' approach to instrumental power.

However, I am in no way trying to present Mr Marley as simply a 'serious influence' on further generations of musicians. Bob is a genius in himself, and although reggae rhythms can take some getting used to, it is such an inherent part of Seventies' rock/pop culture that assimilating at least a few of the more essential Marley records is of crucial importance. It is not exactly true that "reggae is not about the music, reggae is about the vibe", as it is often said; to Marley's honour, I must say that on his best records there are only but a few tracks that have nothing but "vibe" to them, and these, unsurprisingly, are almost always among my least favourite Marley songs. Reggae is certainly about the music - except that the emphasis there is not on the technical side, nor is it on the basic rhythm work which is so crucial for rock music: where we can count good rock songs in riffs, we can't do the same for reggae. Reggae is groove-based, but these grooves are solid and substantial: for the most part, the charm of a reggae number lies in a catchy vocal passage repeated ad infinitum to create some sort of hypnotic/trance-inducing atmosphere and made more palatable due to creative - if often minimalistic - use of instrumentation.

The problem, then, is in how catchy and how well-structured you are able to make your numbers. And this is where Bob Marley cooks. All reggae sounds the same, yes, but if so, why can I glance back at the track listings of all Marley albums I've listened through and remember exactly how almost every song on them is supposed to go? Marley is the master of vocal melody, the lord of the spoken hook, the commander of the pronounced catch. Vocal stylings form the basis of reggae - and I'll be damned if albums like Catch A Fire or Natty Dread don't contain some of the best ever vocal stylings of the Seventies.

But, of course, catchiness and memorability alone is hardly sufficient to transform a solidly written tune into the work of a genius, not even if you're backed with a skilled professional band that is always able to step in with a cool brass riff or a ground-shaking guitar solo to diversify the atmosphere. And this, of course, is where the vibe comes in. Marley doesn't just spout out gibberish or something; his songs are deeply felt and suffered through, giving voice to the poor people of Jamaica, heck, to the Third World in general, sometimes complaining about their problems, sometimes giving us lectures in spirituality, sometimes just calling for unification. It's no wonder that in his Jamaican homeland Bob had acquired a certain Messianistic status, nor is it any wonder that while he was still alive, he shared the unofficial title of Nicest Guy in music; the "vibe of friendliness" just oozes out of almost every note he sings (and plays). When he's gentle and loving, he's the most gentle and loving person on Earth ('No Woman No Cry', 'Waiting In Vain'); when he's pessimistic, he's the most desperate being on the planet ('Concrete Jungle'); but he can also be stern and detached, as on Exodus, or playful and unpretentious, as on Rastaman Vibration. Somehow, Marley manages to squeeze his entire personality within the thin borders of an LP - and then come out unharmed and save that personality for his next LP. This conviction and devotion is what makes him so endearing: the only other person who comes close, in my book at least, is Stevie Wonder.

And while we're on it, let us also not forget that Marley was not alone - most of the man's output was always credited to Bob Marley & The Wailers, after all. In the early days (up until 1973), the Wailers also included Peter Tosh, excellent guitarist, songwriter and singer who complemented the band's music with some sides of his own personality; Bunny Livingstone, congo player and cute backing vocalist; and the rhythm section of Aston Barrett (bass) and Carlton Barrett (drums). This version of the band had been playing their adaptation of ska music, gradually evolving into what we now know as reggae, since the mid-Sixties, but only managed a major label contract in 1973 - and after two albums, Tosh and Livingstone were out of the band, for reasons I don't really know.

As reggae became more popular (due in large part to Eric Clapton's popularizing it with his famous cover of 'I Shot The Sheriff'), Marley assembled a new version of the Wailers - with the Barrett rhythm section preserved, but other people usually coming and going; the most stable additions were Al Anderson on lead guitar and the I-Threes on backing vocals, these including Bob's wife Rita. The difference between the "original" Wailers and "new look" Wailers is essential, but it's hardly possible to say which version of the band was the best - they had slightly different functions, after all.

Contrary to rumours (which are mainly due to the fact that people are usually only acquired with Bob's compilations), Marley doesn't have a particularly huge back catalog - after all, he died young, as early as 1981, and most of Bob's individual albums are highly recommended. Currently, I have a rather sizeable chunk of his catalog, although I do miss a few key records, most notably Burnin', the one that has 'I Shot The Sheriff' on it; I swear to correct this situation in the future. In the meantime, down with all these introductory remarks; let's skip over to Jamaica. Take out your ganja, say a word of praise to Jah, dip through your door, gather round da Dreads, and play I some music! Are you pickin' up now?



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

Arguably Marley's most "desperate" album - and a great collaboration between the geniuses of Bob and Peter.


Track listing: 1) Concrete Jungle; 2) Slave Driver; 3) 400 Years; 4) Stop That Train; 5) Rock It Baby; 6) Stir It Up; 7) Kinky Reggae; 8) No More Trouble; 9) Midnight Ravers.

This was the Wailers' major label debut album - granted, it didn't acquire much popularity at the time, but hey, it would still be one year before Clapton would serve as the middleman between Marley and the Great White World, so let's just pay this immaculate record some due in retrospect.

And immaculate it is - I like Natty Dread and Exodus as much as anybody, but this is still currently my pick for the most edge-cutting Marley album ever released. As I already said in the intro, it's incredibly hard to distinguish, in a relative way, between different Marley albums: since the rhythmic structure and basic songwriting principles are always the same, we can only rely on somewhat more subjective notions - like, you know, the amount of emotion put into each particular song. And, not being an expert on black music at all, nor reggae in particular, it is sometimes hard to distinguish between "emotional" and "unemotional". Is 'Lively Up Yourself' an inspired, energetic, rousing track, for instance, or just a slow stoned space-taking meaningless jam? You tell me...

Regardless, though, each and every one of the nine tracks on here cooks. Some get by with inventive melodic moves; some get by with irresistibly catchy choruses; and some just get by because they grip your heart in the tightest grip imaginable. And one of the main factors responsible for that is the creative pairing of Marley and Peter Tosh - the band definitely lost a lot of its charm after Peter's departure. Tosh gets to have two compositions of his own on the album, where he also sings lead vocals, and they're marvelous beyond description. '400 Years' might just be the most desperate, aching, bleeding cry against slavery and discrimination that was ever recorded in the Western hemisphere: '400 years, and it's the same, the same philosophy', Peter wails against the ominous reggae background, and even when he cries out the usual prophetic words of liberation - 'I''ll take you to a land of liberty, where we can live, live a good good life and be fre-e-e-e-e-e....' - his voice sounds so miserable, insecure and paranoid that you gotta understand there's no hope, no hope at all. And all that accompanied with an insane amount of catchiness and perfectly placed backing vocals. Meanwhile, his other contribution, 'Stop That Train', with a not less catchy refrain, is gentler and subtler, with a melody that tries to evade jagged edges and heart-wrenching solos, but the lyrics are of a similar, near-suicidal character.

Bob does rise to the competition, though - all the other songs are penned by him (the other Wailers hadn't learned their songwriting craft by then, so it seems), and on the first two tracks, he conjures up a similar atmosphere of complete desperation - in fact, these first four tracks on the album easily make up for the most depressing and heartbroken sequence of songs I've ever heard. It's no simple coincidence that the Wailers' major label debut is introduced by the world-famous lyrics - 'No sun will shine in my day today/The high yellow moon won't come out to play/I said darkness has covered my light/And the stage my day into night, yeah/Where is the love to be found?/Won't someone tell me?/'Cause my life must be somewhere to be found/Instead of concrete jungle/Where the living is harder'; 'Concrete Jungle' is a pessimistic masterpiece, with one of the most memorable Marley vocals ever. To top it all, while the Wailers were never that hot on guitar solos, Peter Tosh plays a terrific guitar solo on here, short, economic, but hitting so hard on that "depressive nerve" of ours that I'm left completely breathless at the end. Reggae at its finest.

'Slave Driver' also says it all with its title - where Tosh was addressing the issues of slavery four hundred years on, Bob goes to the past and paints us some pictures of his people's past, but in the process he also ties these brutal pictures in with the present ('today they say that we are free, only to be chained in poverty'). Another catchy refrain throws in the luxurious musical baggage: if you can get the 'Slave dri-i-i-i-ver, the table is turned' line out of your head, it's certainly due to your not willing to give Mr Marley a simple chance.

The album mellows down a bit after that, with two gentle love songs in 'Rock It Baby' and 'Stir It Up'. 'Rock It Baby' milks the "slow balladeering reggae" groove for what it's worth (if you're not a reggae connoisseur, you might recognize the groove from something like the Stones' cover of 'Cherry Oh Baby' or some Clapton numbers from his reggae-influenced period). Slow, caressing, and totally disarming, culminating in the irresistable 'rock it baby rock it baby tonight' chorus, it is then succeeded by the even gentler 'Stir It Up', where the steady click-click-chuck-chuck of the main reggae rhythm is perfectly complemented by atmospheric synth effects. These two songs show that the Wailers are just as fine at creating a humanistic atmosphere of loving as they are at creating a loving atmosphere of humanism. They're beautiful.

And finally, off we go into somewhat less structured, more chant-like material - but all the same, I like 'Kinky Reggae' because of its, well, kinkiness (gotta love the 'I went downtown, I saw Miss Brown, she had brown sugar all over her booga-wooga' line), 'No More Trouble' because of its hypnotic, addictive persuasion and untrivial tempo changes, and 'Midnight Ravers' because of their "mystic drive"... the only way I can describe the song.

In other words, for a reggae album, this one's pretty diverse, and even if some might complain that Marley and company hadn't yet reached a certain degree of technical and arranging perfection, there's a youthful rawness and drive that are certainly lacking on some of the later, more 'wisened up' efforts. Sure ain't a simple coincidence that it's titled Catch A Fire - there's so much fire on here that it would be hard to recapture the same amount of it on subsequent records.



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Where the big Rasta guy becomes a prophet, once and for all. Plus, some cool reggae grooves, but you know that already.


Track listing: 1) Lively Up Yourself; 2) No Woman No Cry; 3) Them Belly Full (But We Hungry); 4) Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Roadblock); 5) So Jah Say; 6) Natty Dread; 7) Bend Down Low; 8) Talkin' Blues; 9) Revolution.

Truly an excellent album, but I wouldn't know if it's really worth the trouble to select Natty Dread as Marley's best album, not to mention 'ultimate reggae album of all time', as some put it. This here review will be eminently positive, of course (if ever you thought reggae as a genre was worthwhile at all, there's no possibility of your disliking Natty Dread), but I do think that some of the elements that made earlier Marley/Tosh collaborations so unique are missing here, mainly due to the fact that Tosh himself is missing - Natty Dread presents us with a radically different version of the Wailers, without Tosh and Bunny Livingstone, on here replaced by Touter (keyboards) and Al Anderson on lead guitar. And I miss the beautiful lead playing of Tosh, as well as his acute, breathtaking compositions - the Wailers were never the same after the guy left.

That said, there exists a simple explanation of this utmost reverance for Natty Dread: it was the first Marley album released after Clapton'd introduced the 'reggae craze' with his version of 'I Shot The Sheriff', and thus, the first reggae album to which critics at the time payed any serious attention. And it stayed that way forever. History is made up of these little accidents and coincidences, you know...

In any case, there was indeed a lot of stuff to praise on the album. It is less introspective and personal than Marley's preceding albums, and milks the Rastafarian vibe for all its worth - if anything, it could be the 'ultimate reggae album' just because it concentrates so much on the general spiritual disciplines of Kingston. Almost every track on here deals with Jah, ganja, dreadlocks, and lots of stuff that one really needs further education on in order to acquire a full understanding of the album. Me definitely not being an expert in Rastaman vibrations (a fascinating topic, no doubt, but not the one I'd wish to spend extra time on studying), I'll just try to concentrate on the more general aspects of the album - the music, that is.

The most famous song on here is the Vincent Ford penned 'No Woman No Cry', but surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) it's also the least typical number on the album. It's just a nostalgic love ballad - a beautiful, endearing ballad that revels in its 'humility' and does indeed remind one of Bob Dylan, to whom they were already beginning to compare Marley at the time. Bob's vocals are so gentle and captivating that it's hard to imagine a love ballad with a higher percent of sincerity, and the chorus will stay in your head forever, brilliantly simple as it is.

But everything else is philosophized to a huge degree. In fact, all of the other songs are pretty similar in vibe - well-performed reggae shuffles (is that an allowed word combination? Oh well, I like it) that seem to only be divided according to the 'pessimistic/optimistic' issue: certain songs draw on darker, sadder aspects of human existence, some draw on easier aspects of said existence. Thus, the album begins with the driving 'Lively Up Yourself', a five-minute long analog of a tribal chant that slowly grows on you, expanding its solemnity from the ominous bassline onto the not any less ominous brass section until you start to get an uneasy feeling of the Voodoo power descending on you or something. That said, basically the song is quite friendly.

But then there's also 'Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)', with a title that says it all - 'a hungry mob is a angry mob'. If 'Lively Up Yourself' is more like a song of rejoicement that Bob addresses to his people, this one is more like a trademark anthem of the Rastafarians. Pretty catchy, too (well, almost everything on here is pretty catchy, so I'd better not mention that word again). And then there's 'Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Roadblock)', where Marley hints at a story about his being detained by cops for carrying 'my little herb stalk'. The closest Bob gets to an acute personal statement on here, that is - and even if the song goes on for almost seven minutes, it hardly ever gets boring. Personally, I just get all kinds of shivers down my spine at hearing Marley and the band go 'Aaaaaaaaaahh... rebel music!' in the chorus; and, by the way, the backing vocals are provided by the I-Threes. Not that you'd care.

Other highlights include the pompous, stately 'So Jah Seh', where Marley speculates on Biblical imagery in the most portentous way possible and comes out with a winner; the lightweight, humorous 'Bend Down Low' which is a nice breather after all the serious stuff; the near-perfect hobo anthem 'Talkin' Blues', where Bob relies a bit too much on lyrical cliches, I think, but it's passionate and sincere all the same; and, of course, the great anti-violence anthem 'Revolution', which, I hope, nobody will mistake for the opposite. The only track I'm not at all fond of is the title track, which sounds a bit stupid twenty-five years on: especially if you're not a big connoisseur of the reggae culture in general. Apart from lacking that shiver-sending pathos of the other tracks, it's also way too repetitive even for a reggae number. Then again, a deeper appreciation of said culture will probably help you assimilate even that one.

Overall, even if Natty Dread has been overrated over the years, it's still one of the most essential albums of 1974 - Marley might have produced albums of a more diverse and consistent nature, but there's no denying that the album had announced the arrival of a new musical style with the same power as, say, Deep Purple In Rock had announced the arrival of heavy metal four years earlier. It is an essential purchase, therefore, even for a non-reggae fan, if only for historical reasons.



Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Somewhat pointless - the hooks do save the record, but there's some sense of "deja vu"...

Best song: WANT MORE

Track listing: 1) Positive Vibration; 2) Roots Rock Reggae; 3) Johnny Was; 4) Cry To Me; 5) Want More; 6) Crazy Baldhead; 7) Who The Cap Fit; 8) Night Shift; 9) War; 10) Rat Race.

This is arguably the weakest of the "classic period" Marley albums, yet it's still quite solid, and perversely, it even made the Top 10 in the US (one further argument in favour of the hypothesis that musical quality has nothing to do with reasons of commercial success whatsoever). It's not that the songs are bad: Marley and his songwriting pals are still at the top of their game, throwing out classy hook after classy hook, and if you didn't find any of the previous albums boring, there's little chance you'll dislike this one.

It's just that there's a certain lack of direction on the album. With Marley, it often helps that his albums have either some kind of central theme, or just a certain musical/philosophical aspect that the emphasis is laid on. Catch A Fire was lamentative and deeply personal, for instance; Natty Dread was pensive and "socially oriented"; and Exodus would be simply an overwhelming statement of grandiose religious commitment. In this context, Rastaman Vibration is a bit disjointed and messy, just an odds-and-ends collection of solid numbers that don't necessarily fit together. In fact, it perfectly matches its title: the only thing that unites these songs is the Rastaman vibe, and that's a very vague thing in the long run. Heck, if you're into reggae, you really need a unifying purpose for your album. As such, I simply doubt I'll hang on to this particular record for so long - it will definitely be overshadowed by its similar, but "weightier" colleagues.

But that doesn't mean that the guys actually rolled their sleeves down on the album. It is still chock-full of minor Marley classics which every reggae lover is bound to know by heart: 'Positive Vibration', 'Roots Rock Reggae', 'Johnny Was', 'War', 'Rat Race'... condemning all these songs would certainly be a stupidity. However, before I start with these, I'd want to make a statement concerning Mr Aston Barrett. In my opinion, he comes up with the album's greatest song on here with 'Want More'. I'm not even wishing to speak about the magnificent protest vibe of the song or anything like that; I just want to say that the song's melody alone effectively disrupts and destroys any kind of stupid claims about all reggae sounding the same or reggae being an uncreative genre that exploits one single melody, etc., etc. Bullshit. Prime bullshit. Not only does the song contain a whole cartload of phenomenal vocal hooks, but it also has a real guitar riff (which eventually goes away but which is very well heard at the beginning of the song) which fits in perfectly with the standard reggae rhythm. Take away the reggae rhythm and you have a prime pop song - although, of course, you shouldn't take away the reggae rhythm. Plus - cute wah-wah patterns all over the place and minimalistic guitar solos that certainly influenced many a-New Waver.

Okay, now that that's done, let's get back to the classics. 'Positive Vibration', written by Vincent Ford, is trademark Marley tribal chanting, with one of those marvelously simple, yet totally unforgettable grooves; one of Marley's best talents is to make a song that is able to sound cheerful and life-asserting and friendly at one moment and then turn into something stern and solemn and ominous in the blink of an eye - this is one of those numbers. Ford is also responsible for 'Roots Rock Reggae', which is somewhat silly, but then again, 'Roots Rock Reggae' is probably no more silly within the borders of the genre than, say, 'Every Day I Got The Blues' is for blues music, or 'Rock And Roll Music' for, well, rock and roll music. It's one of those genre-asserting songs, you understand? Gotta love the line about 'we bubblin' on the top 100, just like a mighty dread', too.

Hook-containing songs also include the plaintive-consolative ballad 'Cry To Me', which has Marley at his gentlest on the album (it's more or less in the vein of 'No Woman No Cry', as you could guess by the titles); the venomous, sarcastic 'Crazy Baldheads', diluted a bit by wonderful scat singing from Bob; the philosophic 'Who The Cap Fit', where the main attraction are the call-and-response vocals between Bob and the I-Threes; and the slow-moving, melancholic 'Rat Race', that really ends the album on a grim and depressing note, quite unlike the way it started with 'Positive Vibration'.

Non-hook-containing songs... yes, unfortunately, this time around there are some of those, too (you can't keep on writing one hundred percent involving material all your life, can you?), well, anyway, these would include the sad story of 'Johnny Was', the unlucky fate of the oppressed population in 'Night Shift', and the pompous anti-racist propaganda of 'War'. That latter song is considered a classic, but I dare say that's because it starts with lyrics like 'Until the philosophy which hold one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned - everywhere is war - me say war'. How can a song like this not be held as 'classic'? Huh. Well, unfortunately, it's just a statement - I don't see too many musical merits in the actual song. I'd take 'Concrete Jungle' over it any time of year. It's numbers like these that spoil the picture: Marley writes good lyrics, but he's no lyrical genius (rather like Phil Lynott, I'd say, the two of which have quite a few things in common), and he can't pull a composition through on the strength of lyrics alone, anthemic as they might be.

Still, at least half of this album is worth memorizing forever. And for a band that's been playing reggae for at least ten years, that's definitely no mean feat.



Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Marley's prophetic ambitions reach their peak here, but only for the better.

Best song: EXODUS

Track listing: 1) Natural Mystic; 2) So Much Things To Say; 3) Guiltiness; 4) The Heathen; 5) Exodus; 6) Jamming; 7) Waiting In Vain; 8) Turn Your Lights Down Low; 9) Three Little Birds; 10) One Love/People Get Ready.

Time Magazine once voted this record the "album of the century" - they're pretty nutty there in Time Magazine. Which doesn't mean that Exodus isn't exactly, er, eligible for the position. Without a doubt, it is the most serious album Marley ever recorded, actually, the one recorded from high atop Bob's unreachable position as Grand Speaker for Jah. The title here is ambiguous: on one hand, the "exodus" as described in the title track symbolizes the propagation of Rastafarian ideas all over the world, on the other hand, it is also personal - after an unsuccessful attempt to take Marley's life at the end of 1976 when a group of people attacked him and Rita at his house in Jamaica, Bob decided to leave the Rasta homeland for some time, and Exodus was written and recorded in London. Not from within the reggae ambience, thus - from an "outside" position, which only adds further solemnity to the project.

Therefore, even if you don't like Exodus as compared to Marley's earlier efforts, it is still hard not to respect this "monumental" statement of faith and purpose. I, for instance, don't consider it to be among his strongest albums; even more, it contains the first Marley song that I truly cannot stand, and that is the stupid proto-adult contemporary soft ballad 'Turn Your Lights Down Low', which does boast the usual Marley atmosphere, but offers you absolutely nothing worthwhile - here, the standard reggae beat isn't complemented by anything interesting. Likewise, I find songs like 'Guiltiness' overreaching, and songs like 'Jamming' overrated. But don't let that bother you! Most of the songs are still cool, and there's such a strong religious vibe running through most of the tracks that the whole of this album is definitely huger than the sum of its parts. It's kinda like Marley's All Things Must Pass, only not so strong on the melodies.

The centerpiece of the album, of course, is the title track - arguably the lengthiest reggae track ever recorded, but worth every minute of it. The pulsating, inspired drive of the track easily rivals any of the angriest funk anthems you'll find on this planet, and the song would have been convincing enough even if it only had the band chanting 'Exodus! Movement of Jah people!' for all of these seven minutes. But no, then again, maybe not - it's the way these chants alternate with Marley's wails, grizzly-grumbly wah-wah lead lines and occasional 'Move! Move! Move!' screams, all culminating in a jam that was certainly the most anthemic and majestic thing Marley had created to date. You can almost see bunches of dedicated Rastafarians gathering round the fire to chant this ominous thing...

Of course, 'Exodus' is not the only thing of interest on this record. The entire first side, apart from maybe 'Guiltiness' which is one of those few Marley songs I don't quite "get", qualifies as a 'serious listen'. 'Natural Mystic' fades in with a chuckin' reggae rhythm that's instantly recognizable, yet there's something about it that sounds more wisened up, more professional than before. I guess it's just a clever production trick, with a deeper echo than usual, but it's a clever production trick. The lyrics are more philosophical and religious than usual - evading Marley's standard social critiques and lamentations and concentrating on the entirely spiritual side of the problem. Then, 'So Much Things To Say' lightens up the atmosphere with the addition of I-Threes backing vocals and a simpler message of praise and gratification; 'Guiltiness', on the other hand, crashing out of the previous song without any break, turns the praise to Jah into a threatening prophecy addressed to those who :"live their lives on false pretence everyday" and are "the big fish who always try to eat down the small fish". Beware! "They'll eat the bread of sorrow". What a shame that, like on 'War' before it, Marley gets so entangled in the Biblical imagery and social meditation that he forgets to insert a musical hook.

Which he doesn't forget to do on 'The Heathen' - it's short and concise, and makes a perfect introduction to 'Exodus' as a simpler, "cruder", but hardly less effective Rastafarian chant. A chant of war! For the glory of Jah, no less. Note the magnificent lead guitar work throughout, probably courtesy of Aston Barrett.

The second side of the album is significantly 'milder' and softer - which does culminate in the particular low point of 'Turn Your Lights Down Low', but which also gives Marley a chance to praise Jah in a more relaxing and humble mood on the world-famous 'Jamming', which might be overrated but is still pretty catchy, and which also allows him to grace the world with another magnificent ballad, 'Waiting In Vain'. Surprisingly many people choose the song as their favourite on the album, and that's understandable - Marley doesn't come up with simple, unpretentious love ballads that often, but when he does, a simple, effective hook (here - the chorus) coupled with unmatched sincerity and warm feeling creates wonders.

One might complain that the last two songs of the album let down its Messianistic imagery, but personally, I think that starting the album on the most serious of notes and letting it end with a couple of lightweight, funny chants of consolation and optimism was a true stroke of genius. 'Three Little Birds' has an unforgettable synth riff, and 'One Love/People Get Ready' is one of the few "let's gather round and sing a unifying song of happiness" tracks in the world that I can stomach, much as I usually detest the genre (just look what a horror a band like Queen made out of it). But when Marley and company chant 'let's get together and feel all right', there's no denying the genuine emotions of this simple, totally non-hypocritic, open call for friendship.

Exodus is a mythical album - one of those few records reviews for which tend to seriously baffle those who haven't actually heard the record in question, because instead of direct descriptions and categorizations all we get is a vague subjective "evaluation" of the album and a few metaphysical metastatements that the review's authors are hardly able to explain the meaning of themselves. But in this particular case, while I'm hardly qualified to try and explain all the sides of the Exodus myth, there's one thing I can say for sure: you may like or dislike Exodus, but it truly deserves its mythical status. It's probably not the best choice for your first Marley album, but if you liked the earlier classics, I dare say you'll find yourself agreeing with me over this one in no time.



Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Mellow, but deep enough to perceive the talent... the monotonous sound does annoy one, sometimes.

Best song: KAYA

Track listing: 1) Easy Skanking; 2) Kaya; 3) Is This Love; 4) Sun Is Shining; 5) Satisfy My Soul; 6) She's Gone; 7) Misty Morning; 8) Crisis; 9) Running Away; 10) Time Will Tell.

You'd think Exodus should have been followed by something even more bombastic... an album for the Rastafarians to rock their souls away to as they gleefully take over the world, disappearing in clouds of ganja. Not at all: having shouted 'Movement of Jah people!' aloud so that everybody could hear, Marley now prefers to conceal himself behind a veil of quiet, introspective ballads and meditative pieces with hardly any perceivable universal messages at all.

Critics usually reach a consensus on Kaya, saying that it's not a particular highlight in the Marley catalog, but its charm can be appreciated overtime, as all these songs grow on you slowly, preferring to plant steady subtle hooks in your soul rather than hitting you over the head with a bleeding straightforwardness. I join the critical chorus - except that I must strongly state that there are no hidden masterworks on the album; it is, quite intentionally, just a pleasant mood piece, a much needed 'lightweight' companion to the bombastic Exodus; perhaps Bob himself was becoming afraid of his 'prophet of Jah' status?

In any case, most of the songs are still excellently written - note, too, that the liner notes say 'all tracks written by Marley', which either means Bob was on a real composing high or that he decided to give this particular album a more uniform, coherent feel than before. Or, actually, that most of the tracks had been outtakes from earlier recording sessions, when Bob usually took most of the songwriting burden on himself. Nothing can beat the opening pair of tracks, though, for sheer memorability. 'Easy Skanking' is nothing more than just a brief life-asserting, optimistic shuffle, and so perfectly adequate that it's hard to imagine anybody seriously dismissing the tune as 'fluffy' or 'stupid'. And Marley's famous humane intonations are at the forefront as he so charmingly implores 'we're taking it easy, taking it slow'... Even better is the title track, based on a wonderfully hilarious synthesizer riff and reminding us all of the reasons we love Bob in the first place: a singalong friendly chorus that is obviously God-inspired - even now I'm humming 'gotta have kaya now, gotta have kaya now, for the rain is falling', even if I don't have the least idea what it is supposed to be a-meanin'.

The other songs here... ehn... well, they're nice and all that, all of them infused with, yeah, you got it, deep spirituality. It sucks now that I think how much I, and pretty much everybody else in the world, have abused the goddamn term, but you see, even if we limit the 'spiritual guys/gals' reviewed on this site to a dozen or so, Marley would definitely make this dozen (Bob Dylan sure wouldn't - his wobbly Zionist ass is way too smart and intellectual to equal true spirituality; it really takes a religion as dumb as Rastafarianism to breed true spirituality. Did that sound un-PC-like? Well, I apologize for that, but when you've vented your frustration by hacking this site to pieces take a minute to ponder upon the meaning of this message. You might agree with me in the end. Come to think of it, if you've hacked this site, you already agree with me).

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes. All these songs really speak to us like any Bob Marley song is supposed to, which is a plus. 'Sun Is Shining' is playful and majestic at the same time, with Marley's wails of 'to the rescue, here I am!' blending in perfectly with some tasty guitar licks. 'Satisfy My Soul' features maybe some of his greatest lines ever: 'Oh please, don't you rock my boat, 'cause I don't want my boat to be rockin'. Is it just a cute taste of phrase, or are lyrics like this, met within the context of a love song, a direct challenge to the usual love-and-sex philosophy of black music? Who knows? Maybe we had the germs of a lyrical revolution sprouting here... Note the gentle and loving piano playing on this track, too.

Of course, somewhere near the end of the album Marley can't help but return to social activity - 'Crisis' persuades us to give praise to Jah no matter what kind of crisis we might be in; 'Running Away' ponders upon certain metaphysical problems of our existence; and 'Time Will Tell' gives us a necessary dose of social critique which some might have found so sorely missing over the running course of the album. Of these, 'Time Will Tell' is still my favourite, as you probably never heard a line like 'think you're in heaven, but you're living in hell' sung in such a warm and soothing tone.

That said, Kaya simply features a bit too much filler and is a wee bit underwhelming to get a higher rating than what it is I actually gave it. It's pretty obvious - I mean, after albums such as Natty Dread and Exodus Marley's true creative potential was exhausted, and all he could do was to step back into the shade and produce all these kinds of easy-flowing, 'lightweight', formulaic albums that would add little to his legacy, but sure wouldn't spoil his reputation. There is no doubt that some Marley fans, tired of the popularity of Bob's 1973-77 catalog, will run to Kaya as their sole resting place, but such hype-based assessments could happen to any album by any band. Still, all Marley fans should seriously consider a lengthy and serious evaluation of Kaya - there is, truly and verily, more to this little forget-me-not of an album than lies obvious on the surface. I'm just not too keen on finding out what it is exactly.



Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

Look here now: if I want a demonstration, I join a demonstration. If I want lecturing, I go to a lecture. But THIS is a bit too much.


Track listing: 1) So Much Trouble In The World; 2) Zimbabwe; 3) Top Rankin'; 4) Babylon System; 5) Survival; 6) Africa Unite; 7) One Drop; 8) Ride Natty Ride; 9) Ambush In The Night; 10) Wake Up And Live.

Never trust a lousy Russian pirate, I say. I got this album lovingly packed on one CD with its follow-up, Uprising, sleeve notes and all, but after some investigation it was revealed that the first track on it was not at all 'So Much Trouble In The World', as the liner notes proclaimed, but 'Ambush In The Night' - and 'Ambush In The Night' was also in its normal place, which is track number nine. EH?? RIP-OFF! Now I am reviewing a defective version of Survival with one track left off and perhaps I am missing a masterpiece which will radically change my opinion of this album.

Although, frankly speaking, I doubt it - my opinion of this album will hardly ever change because for the first time in the entire Marley catalog, Bob puts out an album here which, indeed, all sounds exactly the same. And it's easy to see why - somehow, Marley felt a need to separate the 'sentimental' and 'political' sides of himself and slapped all the sentimentalism on Kaya, while Survival is dedicated entirely to political declarations. Now it was already evident on Rastaman Vibration that every time Marley began seriously engulfing himself in the world of political declarations, he would also begin to lose some of his musical identity - namely, those marvelous vocal hooks that held everything in place on his better releases. And nowhere does this become so evident than on Survival, Marley's equivalent of Lennon's Sometime In New York City, only with even fewer melodies to boot.

Seriously now, there's nothing musically involving on this record. The Wailers still go strong with their rhythm section and all, but not even once does an interesting, exciting riff attract your attention, and solo passages are inexistent. Marley's always been rather economic with his instrumentation, but here he seems to acquire a principle that says "play just the required minimum of sounds, let people concentrate on what I'm a-sayin'". That's right: "saying", not "singing" - like I said, the hooks are all gone. Maybe a couple of the choruses, like on the title track and the already mentioned 'Ambush In The Night', come slightly close to 'catchy', but that's just a few exceptions in a sea of genericness.

That said, Survival is still a record that's widely loved and revered among Marley fans - one thing you can't accuse Bob of is insincerity, and when conviction and emotional power is concerned, this is where he actually wins over Lennon: it is a well-known fact that John was able to change his political beliefs overnight, all depending on his current inner state, while Marley can hardly be accused of inconsistency. It's obvious he really cares about black people - trouble for Africa and the Third World in general is the central and, in fact, only topic of this album, and all the lyrics on here are straightforward, heartfelt and deeply honest. They can really move you even despite all the cliches and self-repetition and the fact that you already heard all this before, just because it's a simple, talented, naive and wise in his naivete Rastafarian guy with a deep love for his comrades of race.

On one song, 'Ambush In The Night', Marley actually approaches the majestic prophetic heights of Exodus - over the course of the song, Bob somehow ties in the attempt to take his life back in 1976 with the general plans of the power-holding ones to get rid of all the liberation movements, and while that is, in fact, highly dubious (it's still not quite clear what were the real reasons of the assault), he somehow makes this all very convincing. And he ends the record with 'Wake Up And Live', an optimistic and cheerful conclusion where Bob for once stays a bit off politics and just tells the folks to, basically, cheer up and be optimistic. A rather nice conclusion to an album so full of imagery of oppression, slavery, suffering, starvation and what-not. (Just look at those titles - 'Zimbabwe', 'Africa Unite', 'Babylon System'... eh?).

But still, you gotta understand: political declarations and heartfelt lyrics are one thing, and musical experience is another. For eight years now, Marley had been making the nearly impossible - taking reggae and using the most minimalistic means to transform it from one of the most formulaic genres into an entirely unique soulful/musical experience. This is his first effort in years where he kicks all these 'minimalistic means' away and simply exploits the reagge rhythms as a foundation for a political call-to-arms. It's a strong, effective, satisfying, convincing call-to-arms, but it certainly doesn't qualify as great music, and I consider it to have been an absolutely wrong, even disastrous move. Don't get me wrong - I'm really bothered by the Third World problems as much as anybody (heck, I live in a country that's almost part of the Third World itself), but I want music first, philosophy next. If your priorities are reversed, feel free to increase the rating one point, two points, fifty points, heck, whatever, what do you think, these ratings are imposed by Jah or something? You're a free man, dude, make your own choice. Me, if I had to embrace philosophy and conviction over music, I'd have to open my arms wide to Bruce Springsteen, and my heart wouldn't tolerate that.


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