BOB MARLEY: UPRISING (1980)
1) Coming In From The Cold; 2) Real Situation; 3) Bad Card; 4) We And Them; 5) Work; 6) Zion Train; 7) Pimper's Paradise; 8) Could You Be Loved; 9) Forever Loving Jah; 10) Redemption Song.
The last album released by Marley in his lifetime is sometimes criticized for being way too overtly Rastafarian and message-directed, and sometimes criticized for not being too interesting from a musical standpoint, but my general impression is that such criticisms should much more appropriately be reserved for Survival, whereas Uprising is actually a musical rebound — a brighter, more colorful record that attempts to break out of the rigid reggae formula way more often than you'd expect from somebody who was not only clearly past his absolute peak, but also dying, as a matter of fact. The latter circumstance one should keep in mind, I guess, when looking at the album cover and seeing Bob depicted as a mythical awakening giant — an excusable bit of self-aggrandizing for a cancer patient, who may already be more concerned about his image in the afterlife rather than the here and now.
Anyway, Uprising is surprisingly diverse and even «poppy» for Marley: there is no telling where the Wailers would go had he been kept alive for another half a decade at least, but Uprising shows that they could have expanded into such areas as R&B (ʽWorkʼ), dance-pop (ʽCould You Be Lovedʼ), and acoustic balladry (ʽRedemption Songʼ), without losing the «Marley spirit» nor the «Wailers sound». ʽWorkʼ sews together reggae and a slow funk groove, along with some ominous bluesy guitar playing and larger-than-life vocal harmonies. ʽCould You Be Lovedʼ bops along as if it were a party-time summer dance piece, pinned to a bassline that shakes its musical butt like an oversexed young lady, and it is fun, not to mention a little baffling to be hearing this and realizing it is, in fact, a piece by Bob Marley, and not by Kool & The Gang.
Then there is ʽRedemption Songʼ, of course, widely celebrated for its humble understatements and simple acoustic beauty — and, cynical as it sounds, hugely aided by the fact of being the last song on Marley's last album, thus forming a natural musical-lyrical testament for the guy: "Emancipate yourself from mental slavery / None but ourselves can free our minds". Musically, there's not much here, and lyrically, there's not a lot of news, but you could say the same about Lennon's ʽImagineʼ, I guess — some things are easy to criticize, but not easy to wipe out of the collective conscience, and Bob's "won't you help to sing these songs of freedom?" is one of those naïve, but persistent questions that will probably dangle in the air till the end of time.
In between these formula-challengers we have our usual reggae schtick, but with the balance smoothly corrected from «messagism» to «catchism», so that a song like ʽComing In From The Coldʼ first grips you with its repetitive, but funny chorus, and only later, if you want to, you can begin pondering its predictably serious message. Equally catchy is the chorus to ʽPimper's Paradiseʼ, a song made ever so moody with some clever synthesizer textures in the background that it will take some time before you begin wondering whether, this time, the message is not just a tad too conservative and moralistic for a guy who wants us to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery (some might even call the song «misogynistic» — of course, that would be pushing it too far, but somehow, up until now Bob had had no incentive to rail against party-going women).
There is no question of these songs being truly on the level with Marley's best stuff, but sometimes, all you really need to have to get by is «solidity», and this is as solid a swan song for Bob as, say, something like In Through The Out Door was for Led Zeppelin the previous year, or Who Are You was for the Keith Moon-era Who the year before that: a bit tired, lumpy, and grumpy, but still capable of looking out for new ideas and adapting themselves to the rapidly changing world. Well worth a thumbs up, anyway.