If I had to put money on it without listening to their entire catalogue, I would probably wager than Burnin‘ is the best original Wailers album; it has two of their most iconic songs on it, and the quality of the rest of them feels higher than some of the other albums I’ve heard. Regardless of any inner turmoil, this record feels to me like the work of a band that knows what they are doing.
I have criticized Marley for his lyrics in other reviews, and I still struggle with his more spiritual and romantic lyrics but, on this record, as with Catch a Fire, I feel like I notice the bad ones less, or they are stronger than usual, or something like that. Based on songwriting credits, one can guess as to why Tosh decided to leave – he contributes only one and a half songs – but, based upon this selection, I wouldn’t necessarily think Tosh is the better writer. (I do think Tosh is the better writer, I’m just not sure it’s obvious from this record. Also, I had no idea some of this material was reused. Maybe that’s why it feels like such a strong set from Marley.)
The vibe is exactly what you would expect for some ’70s reggae; there’s a full sound and there’s energy even on the slower songs. (I must confess that, because of familiarity, I prefer the Clapton version of “I Shot the Sheriff,” which is heresy, but I suspect that if I listen to this one enough, that would change.)
Really, the only thing that would make this record better in my mind is a stronger set of songs – it’s a pretty strong set but there’s the odd one that isn’t quite up to the standard of the hits.
Anyway, probably their best album, far as I know.