Bob Marley had lost much of his bite by the time he really hit it huge in America with Exodus (1977), so it's nice to see his youngest son, who was too young to know his father before he died, hit it big with such an angry, beautiful song. "Welcome to Jamrock" tells the story of Jamaica today, stuck between the natives' poverty and the tourists' piña coladas. It's one of the year's best songs, and I could probably spend the rest of this review discussing it. The other songs seem quaint around it, but the album manages to succeed often enough to avoid one-hit-wonder syndrome.
Reggae is mostly M.I.A. in mainstream music. Even classics such as the Congos' debut and Burning Spear's Marcus Garvey go relatively unnoticed and, when pressed for reggae artists, your average American would only be able to name Damian's daddy and few others. The younger Marley knows this. The album is far from purist, not only in reggae terms, but also in the dancehall genre Marley has often utilized in the past.
There's some nearly straight hip-hop on the excellent "Road to Zion," which features Nas, and some funky beats on the playful "All Night." But the reggae tracks work just as well. "There for You" adds some strings to the traditional beat, and it's a beautiful song that doesn't sound overproduced. Perhaps the only real misstep is "Beautiful," the cheesy early-1990s R&B cut featuring Bobby Brown.
It's always difficult to deal with the expectations that come with a huge hit. Marley doesn't need to worry much about backlash from disappointed buyers, because the quality of the record holds up throughout. Though the album probably won't make any best-of lists at the year's end, it works as a solid merging of reggae and contemporary styles. And if "Welcome to Jamrock" is too good to just pass by, well, there's always the repeat button.
Damian Marley Web site
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