Saturday, June 6, 2009

W - The Wailers - "Burnin'"

I was introduced to reggae the same way a great many of my suburban peers were: Eric Clapton doing a boring version of “I Shot the Sheriff” (it’s absolutely STAGGERING to contemplate this man’s career: quite honestly, he based a now 40+ year career on these creative peaks: the Bluesbreakers LP, “Crossroads”, & the Layla LP. That’s IT – the Yardbirds were just good, not great; Cream was overblown live and very hit or miss on record, Blind Faith was a mistake, and his solo career starting with “461 Ocean Blvd” (from which “I Shot the Sheriff” was featured) could be boiled down to about 1 year of quality work and 30 years of terminal boredom. Yes, I know this review isn’t about Clapton, yet I feel that I could passionately debate the pros and (mostly) cons of his career, but not be able to summon enough energy to discuss the career of Bob Marley.

However I see some correlations between the two, mainly in that though both were undeniably genuine in their devotion to their muses (blues and reggae, respectively), they were also undeniably DULL. Is it because I haven’t given Bob a chance? Nope, I have. In one of those phases where, though I didn’t have much interest in the music per se, I felt a certain amount of duty in buying many of Bob’s records, and letting them gather dust in my collection, hoping that perhaps one day, I would mature enough to understand the obvious genius bestowed from the musical press, which I simply couldn’t see. I didn’t listen to them because they said nothing to me: musically, lyrically, spiritually, globally – nothin’. It finally came to the point where “Exodus”, “Rastaman Vibration”, “Kaya”, etc. were finally sent to Half Price Books, leaving me with “Live”, “ Burnin’”, and the bane of “REAL” reggae everywhere, “Legend: the Best of Bob Marley”.

Yes, putting an entire genre of music in the hands of one notable purveyor of its craft is harshly unfair. It would be like basing all of emo on Coldplay, when we know that emo is SO MUCH MORE THAN YOU COULD POSSIBLY UNDERSTAND (said with trembling lip). But Bob was, is, and will always be the undisputed godfather of reggae’s popular form – much as Elvis was with rock, or Hank was with country. He just turned me off before I had an interest in finding out more (though I do still have a Peter Tosh 8 track.)

The one thing that I do find interesting about reggae is the inherent tension in the music. The relative simplicity of the backing pushing against the political/social/religious nature of the lyrics can be very intriguing. As long as Bob Marley’s not doing it, of course – at least not after 1974 or 75, when he went pop and retained reggae’s sound but lost the tension.

So now, “Burnin’”. This record was the last with the original Wailers, where Bob, though the leader, still shared the spotlight with Bunny Livingston & Peter Tosh. Their contributions, though slight, provide a good balance, especially Bunny’s Eddie Kendricksesque falsetto leads on “Hallelujah Time” and “Pass it On”. Tosh’s vocal on “One Foundation” isn’t much, but he does get a lead on this record’s finest moment, “Get Up Stand Up”. (Classic Rock 1070 AM used to play the HELL out of this back when I was in high school: it always seemed to be playing when we’d leave the school parking lot in Jeff Miranda’s car.) It is political without being strident, the performances are across the board strong, and it’s catchy. After Bunny’s praise-Jah showcase, we get to the big hit “I Shot the Sheriff”. This song too is catchy, but very stupid. As a crime song, “Stagger Lee” is much better, and as a pop song…well, Eric Clapton’s version is just as good, and that’s sad. “Burnin’ & Lootin’” is the other great song on the album, and provides the best example of the tension I earlier described. Bob’s vocal on this is terrific.

However, with the last song on Side One, the bottom a go drop out. “Put it On” is almost laughably stereotypical reggae (“I’m not boasting / feel like toasting”, indeed), and for the rest of the record, we’re in the depths of religious protest, and MAN it’s dull. By the time you get to the seemingly endless “Rastaman Chant”, it’s like you’ve been asleep without the actual rest. Snoresville, Daddy-O….

I was too bored reviewing this record to even come up with good ganja jokes.

VERDICT: I simply was not meant to be a Rastaman.

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