Hot take alert: Is this the best Wailers studio album after the departure of Tosh and Bunny? I think it might be.
The first thing that makes this appeal to me more than most Bob Marley Wailers records is the set of songs: More than on any other album that I can remember when Marley was the sole songwriter, the focus is on social comment and political songs, more than sex and religion. (Yes, the songs are credited to others. That’s a long story. The short version is there was a label fight and Marley was trying to make sure his family and friends got money, not the label.) There is some religion but basically no sex. And, frankly, it’s the religious and sex songs that turn me off of Marley when it’s just him, more often than not. So I like this set better, as a whole.
The aesthetic is typical Wailers, dubby bass, prototypical reggae guitar and keyboards (sometimes both piano and organ), backing vocals, and only the odd other frill. (There is a saxophone on one track, for example.) One of the I-Three has a really, ahem, crazy vocal part on the opening of “Crazy Baldhead,” which is pretty cool. But otherwise, the aesthetic is pretty typical for the group. It’s always been something I liked about them (and the genre).
The production is typical of the era (in reggae): few obvious overdubs, no real polish, the mix isn’t amazing but that’s normal.
Given that most of these Wailers albums sound pretty damn similar, I do think it comes down to the songs. And, in this case, I like them more than I normally do. So I am sticking with my hot take: though this doesn’t have any of Marley’s biggest hits, it’s possibly my favourite set of his songs.