Friday, 11 June 2021

Bite-sized Marley

These are Bob Marley's studio albums, together with introductions from my longer reviews (which can be accessed here) :-

Soul Revolution (1971)

Soul Revolution is an early Bob Marley & The Wailers album, dating from 1971, produced by Lee "Scratch" Perry. It is, confusingly, often referred to as Soul Revolution, Part II and the cover shows this. Part II was actually a dub version of the album that is now called Upsetter Revolution Rhythm - confusing, isn't it? Anyway, it contains attractively rootsy, raw and sparse versions of several songs that appeared later, re-recorded and considerably enhanced, on subsequent albums. There is something appealing about the basicness of these versions, however and the sound quality is surprisingly good. Perry's production is, as always, excellent. Marley and his co-Wailers, Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingstone are in fine harmonious vocal form throughout.

Catch A Fire (1973)

It is impossible to understate the cultural importance of this album, particularly for reggae as a genre. It was, certainly, the first “serious” reggae album, marketed as an album, as opposed to a vehicle for hit singles. Rock music fans may not have “got” reggae in its essential forms (that would not come until the punk/rasta crossover in the years 1976-79), but they lapped up this album. A star was born. No, a great band were born. Although Peter Tosh would leave soon for solo success, The Wailers were one of the great, if not the greatest, reggae rhythm section. The “western” parts never detract too much from what is an essential piece of ground-breaking reggae.

Burnin' (1973)

Following on from the huge success of Catch A Fire, The Wailers returned at the end of the same year with another heady mix of politically conscious skanking reggae mixed with tuneful rocksteady precursors to what was known in the late 70s as “Lovers’ Rock”. Militancy was always going to play a part in Marley's output, however, whether the record company liked it or not. Even the cover made a statement, with its branding/slavery-inspired artwork and Marley's uncompromising expression. It is this that drives the album, despite its unquestionable loved-up moments. There is a convincing argument to be put forward that the militant numbers were almost entirely Peter Tosh's and that the love songs betrayed Bob as being an old softy at heart, still chasing girls when there were righteous battles to be fought.

Natty Dread (1974)

Now deprived of both Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, this was the first album credited to Bob Marley And The Wailers. It has to be said that it loses a little of the vibe of the first two albums, just slightly. Tosh’s ear for a melodic tune was a big miss. As would be the case for the remainder of his career, Marley’s material could be broadly categorised as “rebellion, Rasta and romance”. Songs would fall mainly into one of the three categories (including “roots” in with “Rasta”). Just as on Catch A Fire, other instruments are used to augment the traditional reggae of drums, bass and keyboards - acoustic guitar, lead rock guitar, saxophones, horns (such as on Lively Up Yourself) and the increasing use of multiple female backing vocals. It was something that worked well then and Marley continued it throughout his career. After the seismic blast of the first two albums and the success that would follow with Live, Rastaman Vibration, Exodus and Kaya, this always had the feel of a “treading water” album, which is a bit of a shame, as it contains some good material. Lively Up Yourself is a Marley classic, full of laid-back skanking rhythm and an enthusiastic invocation to the faithful. Them Belly Full and Rebel Music show his indignant fire burning at its brightest.

Rastaman Vibration (1976)

The previous year’s live album had put Bob Marley fully into the “mainstream” and his releases now catered for not only a Jamaican audience, but a predominantly white “rock” group of followers in the UK, the USA and Europe. He was now on the way to becoming a global music figure. Rastaman Vibration, however, is a surprisingly uncommercial, often low-key album. It is fervent in its roots approach and is still pretty credible in its roots authenticity. The album shows once again that alongside the Rasta devotional material, a fighting soul healthily co-exists. This would never change, despite the commercial, more poppy success that some later songs would bring.

Exodus (1977)

This was Bob Marley’s big one - his Thriller, Born In The USA and Brothers In Arms - the one that made him a massive chart and album selling act and saw this album being bought by all sorts of people, not just reggae fans. Marley was now “mainstream”, which was a bit of a shame in some ways. Like those other albums, I find I don’t listen to it as much as I do Marley’s earlier output, or indeed the ones he released after this. It cannot be ignored, nevertheless, that this album put reggae in many suburban living rooms. It is still undeniably a great album.

Kaya (1978)

This is Bob Marley & The Wailers’ most laid-back, easy going album, lacking the militancy that would be present on several songs on all the previous albums. The songs on here are about chilling out in the sun, letting in love, feeling romantic and smoking large quantities of marijuana (“kaya”). Marley admitted to be just a country boy at heart and this was his most relaxed, rural-inspired album that brings to mind vistas of the green hillsides of Nine Mile, Jamaica, where he grew up. Less instant than Exodus, this album is, in some ways, more interesting because of it.   

Survival (1979)

After the laid-back, chilled-out and romantic ambience, both musically and lyrically, of the previous year's Kaya album, Bob Marley went back to a more roots approach with this potent, politically-motivated album. After Kaya and the blatant commercial feel of much of Exodus, Survival would be Marley's most "roots" and "Conscious" album since 1976's Rastaman Vibration. Whereas the message in Kaya had been to take it easy, here it was to get up and stand up once again and make your feelings known. A quality album. No question.

Uprising (1980)

Bob Marley's last studio album before his tragic demise is a melodic merging of aware, political material with a lighter skanking beat as opposed to the traditional roots, Rasta heavier beat. Al Anderson's electric guitar is used a lot too, emphasising the close relationship Marley always had with the electric guitar and how he was prepared to use it in a situation very different from its usual rock setting. Marley's reggae was often considerably enhanced by his use of electric guitar.  

Confrontation (1983)

Confrontation was released in 1983, posthumously, made up of session material left off the previous two or three albums. There is an understandable patchiness to it, but it still functions as a perfectly credible album. It is not just a collection of demos. It is much better than that. 



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