Rastaman Vibration

Bob Marley & The Wailers

Tuff Gong / Island Records, 1976


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I have mixed feelings about Rastaman Vibration, the 1976 release from Bob Marley & The Wailers. On one hand, I don't often find myself drawn to the Pierce Memorial Archives to listen to this one, simply because it doesn't scream "greatest hits" from its track listing. (It could also be that I'm hesitant to listen to "War," thanks to what Sinead O'Connor turned that track into during her appearance on Saturday Night Live all those years ago.

Yet when I did finally dig my old cassette out from the Archives and popped it into the tape deck, I found myself pleasantly surprised by this album. In a sense, it doesn't need to have any of the hits on it, for the music in general holds its own quite well. Yet it also suggests that Marley and crew were reaching a comfort level that threatened to be harmful to the music.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

For the most part, Marley's style of reggae dared to be more than one or two chord progressions; this allowed him to grow as a songwriter and help to become reggae's best-known spokesperson. (I realize the track "Exodus," one of Marley's biggest hits, is constant riffing of an A-minor chord... but that's a different album which we've already talked about on this site.) On Rastaman Vibration, there's a lot of settling in to simple chord patterns which don't vary at all - and that suggested stagnation on the part of Marley and all the other song writers.

Even so, tracks such as "Positive Vibration," "Roots, Rock, Reggae" and "Who The Cap Fit" shine on this album - and even though none of them were featured on the best-of package Legend, these songs all show they had the power to be remembered on their own terms.

Yet some of the tracks you'd expect to be the ones that leap off the album into your heart are the ones which are the most troubling. "War" is one of the tracks which sticks to a simple chord progression, and though Marley's rendition blows all others out of the water, it still is weak in comparison to the outstanding tracks on this disc. Likewise, "Crazy Baldhead" has its moments, but its overall power is compromised by a bizarre war-like whoop that Marley lets loose with at the start.

What's a little more disturbing is that other tracks, which probably would have been standouts in their own right had they been on a different disc, are lost in the shuffle. "Night Shift" and "Rat Race" both come to mind as examples.

Rastaman Vibration is by no means the nightmare I once thought it to be, but it also is not the best of Marley's catalog. That said, it is worth checking out for the hidden gems, and is still recommended.

Rating: B-

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© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Tuff Gong / Island Records, and is used for informational purposes only.