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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Bob Marley: Confrontation


1) Chant Down Babylon; 2) Buffalo Soldier; 3) Jump Nyabinghi; 4) Mix Up, Mix Up; 5) Give Thanks & Praises; 6) Blackman Redemption; 7) Trench Town; 8) Stiff Necked Fools; 9) I Know; 10) Rastaman Live Up!.

As an equally-righted Bob Marley album, Confrontation is nothing special, and it certainly does not stand out that much against the background of the similarly-titled Survival and Uprising. But as an album released posthumously, worked up by Rita Marley and friends and colleagues from a set of raw demos left over from Bob's 1979-80 sessions, this is an excellent job: most chances are that you won't even be able to guess that the final record was released without Bob's explicit consent — although, who knows, maybe Rita did feel the presence of such a consent, transmitted directly into her conscience from the lower levels of Jah heaven.

The songs mostly go back to the Survival sessions, so the album feels a bit less «poppy» and innovative than Uprising, once more going back to the rather stern, stiff, anthemic style of the fight-for-your-rights propaganda of 1979, with some inevitable lyrical failures — for instance, ʽBuffalo Soldierʼ uses the image of the enlisted black man in late 19th century US army as a sym­bol of fighting for freedom and independence, when in reality the «Negro Cavalry», formed already after the conclusion of the Civil War, was regularly used to mop up natives in the Indian Wars, or at least clean up after the whites had mopped up the Indians, so using that particular image as a symbol for all things good and progressive is rather questionable. Then again, poetic licence and all, and the phrase ʽbuffalo soldierʼ has got such an empowering ring to it, who could really resist temptation to use it in a freedom-loving context?

Anyway, one more word on that and we will be falling into the trap of placing the words before the music. The problem is, there is not much I, or any other reviewer, could say about the music, other than just re-stating the fact that all the post-Marley overbuds, applied to his demos, are quite consistent with the Marley spirit — synthesizers, horns, backing vocals, which is not all that surprising, considering that they have been applied by the same people who'd worked with him through the last half-decade of his life. The horns, by the way, are the only thing that adds a little distinctiveness to such tunes as ʽTrenchtownʼ, which they Latinize a little bit; and the synthesi­zers help transform ʽI Knowʼ into the closest thing to a «dance-pop hit» that Bob could ever have (I know that he expressly wanted the song to be turned into a single, but I do not know if that was before or after the pseudo-orchestral synths had been added to it).

Probably the single best song is ʽJump Nyabinghiʼ, referring to one of the oldest Mansion of Rastafari and featuring here more as a positive, light-headed, celebration of life and love than an anthemic call-to-vigilance. Just due to that, it stands out in a bright light against the rest, not to mention a funny reference to smokin' it ("we've got the herb! we've got the herb!") the likes of which, I believe, we have not heard since Kaya hit the stores. Its chorus may not be as catchy as the one on ʽRastaman Live Up!ʼ, ending the album on one final sloganeering note, but it sounds more wild and tribal than anything else on here, the only time where Bob comes close to briefly losing his head and giving in to the ancestral spirit inside.

All of this is harmless fun, yet upon hearing Confrontation, I have to say that I am somewhat relieved that Marley did not leave enough stuff in the vaults to last Rita and the boys for another half of a lifetime. Whichever direction he was planning to take (if he was planning anything at all) after Uprising, we can only guess about — the problem is that, after all has been said and done and all the homages have been paid, Bob Marley was essentially a one-trick pony (okay, two-trick, if you succeed in separating his romantic troubadour side from his hero of the people side), and Exodus took that trick to levels that could not have possibly been outdone: just like no classical opera can surpass The Ring on the 1-11 scale of «grandiose regality», so no record that subscribes to the reggae idiom can trump «Movement of Jah People!». Could he have moved out into other areas? Would he want to? Certainly Confrontation is not the right kind of record to address that question to — but if your demands towards the man's art are reasonable, it is quite the right kind of record to own and enjoy, in loving memory of Haile Selassie's most loyal servant. 

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