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album review
This was where Peter Gabriel left Charisma and joined Richard Branson's Virgin Records. And I guess Virgin thought the poor sales of Gabriel's previous albums was in part due to the lack of a distinct title, so in the US this album was nicknamed Security. But it actually isn't titled, it's just Peter Gabriel's fourth untitled LP (and Security was a pretty silly name anyway, if you ask me).

As for the material, it seems Gabriel had acquired an interest in ethnic music, and produced a couple of songs based on that. He gathered his crew to play the ethnic percussion, surdo drums, and the CMI - the instrument that Mike Oldfield was starting to flirt with. So these songs have a kind of dark creepy atmosphere, with lyrics and motifs about foreign lands and rituals, and suchlike.

Whilst this album seems to be a fan favourite of sorts, I'd have to oppose them and say this album isn't too good - at least when compared to Gabriel's previous successes. I have nothing against him experimenting with ethnic music, but the album comes across as a rather plain experiment, not an experience. It's as if the band said 'now we need a dark spooky atmosphere, exotic instruments, and Peter can improvise some stuff on top. Then we'll have a good track to fill up this open slot'. And the songs that aren't ethnic go for a dancey direction, with funky rhythms and trendy synths.

Although the album doesn't sound anywhere near as dated as it could have - the production is excellent - the tracks themselves aren't that hot. They aren't catchy, the lyrics don't tell me much, and the atmosphere and mood is quite contrived. I mean, what the hell is "Shock the Monkey" about? ... I rarely complain about 'meaningless' lyrics, but these are awfully inane. Wikipedia tells me the song is about animal cruelty, which makes some sense, but I still can't swallow those lyrics. And when the song relies on a synth riff and not much else, I don't have many reasons to go crazy over it.

As for the other songs, I like "The Rhythm of the Heat", about a ritual on a faraway land, and it sounds like Gabriel knows what he's talking about there. But I can't see why he includes the annoying vocal gymnastics, whispered voices, and choirs so often - they make the song sound cheesy instead of spooky - but at least the song itself is solid. It's very hushed, with only a few growling synths, Gabriel wails, and blasts of percussion help create tension.

Then there's "The Family and the Fishing Net", based around a cool plodding rhythm and spooky lyrics that describe an exotic marriage ritual. And although the song rambles through more unnecessary vocal acrobatics and meadering verses again, at least it has a cool sound, and achieves a great effect.

Then there's the dramatic "San Jacinto" - sad and atmospheric - with tingle-tingle synths and all, but it just doesn't strike me as well-executed, as it doesn't hold me in its grip like it should. So maybe it's just me - I don't like the song too much. And "Lay Your Hands On Me" really overdoes the 'dark, spooky' trick, as if the album didn't have enough of those humming synths and E-minor chords already. And the chorus has that cheesy riff Tony Levin plays on his Chapman Stick and a really really irritating chorus going Lay your hands on me, OVER MEE-HEE-HEE-HEEEEE. I can't stand that chorus.

Oddly, I like "Wallflower" though. It's a really beautiful and touching ballad, and it doesn't sound like just sterile experimentation with some exotic sound for the hell of it. It's maybe one of the best tracks here, I like it more than "San Jacinto" at least. And the album ends with the samba-wannabe "Kiss of Life" - whilst it may be a cool way to release all the tension held in through the entire album, it's not a particularly impressive song in itself.

I believe this album was quite innovative for its time - after all, who else was experimenting so much with ethnic music? Talking Heads of course - Remain in Light had already been released, but this has none of Brian Eno's spectacularly refined production tricks, David Byrne's wit, or that band's natural energy. Instead, this tried to push into the more exotic side of the 'World Beat' movement, but how can that be done with such a lack of soul or catchy hooks? Either Peter Gabriel had the wrong notion of what World Beat music is, or this album highlights his weak songwriting.

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Posted: Wednesday 12th Aug 2015 7:26 PM

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album review
Marley steps away even further from the pop stylings he'd flirted with on Kaya and other releases, and becomes more rootsy with Uprising. And the lyrical themes are less politically charged this time, so instead of sending his vibes over to Africa, this time he's talking about his fellow Jamaicans.

These songs have a more social and religious tone to them, and some of them are even quite pessimistic. What does he mean when he says we don't know how we and dem gonna work this out, and that it isn't even worth trying because no one can stop them now? Hmm...

As far as the music is concerned, I said already this material is less pop-oriented. And by that I mean these songs are more minimal, repetitive and mantraic - almost a 'less is more' approach - a stab at being simple and effective. And whilst that does work, many non-reggae listeners may've found the album boring, because as a result there are fewer hooks and catchy moments, and fewer different parts to each song.

Still, I didn't find Uprising boring. Sure, there are fewer hooks, and the songs are generally more repetitive and minimal, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. After all, this is reggae not pop, much less rock, so there's no reason to condemn it just because it doesn't conform to a pop or rock ethos.

And Marley and his wailing fellas are doing a good job here - the vibe is here, the reggae rhythms, the soulfulness - it's all fine and dandy. But what I will say is that overall I enjoy this album a little less than his earlier ones, I prefer listening to uber-catchy Marley songs rather than these. So although "Bad Card" and "Work" are fine songs, they're just a bit lower-rated relatively speaking.

"We and Them" even has some pretty weird chords changes, and "Zion Train" has a catchy hook in the chorus. As for "Coming in From the Cold" and "Real Situation" - now, those are fine songs! The first is catchy and inviting - almost like "Lively Up Yourself", except more down-to-earth somehow. And although the latter is quite depressing, it still sounds damn pleasant.

All in all, a solid batch of songs so far, together with "Pimper's Paradise", which has a slow reggae rhythm, and lyrics about some girl - unless Marley was using a metaphor - but I think it's about a girl. It's the closing trio of songs that make the album worth owning though ...

Firstly there's the outstanding "Could You Be Loved", where Marley pulls out all the stops to make a fast dancey reggae number with disco-ish drums. It's the glorious hook in the chorus that makes the song, such a simple sequence of notes, but the conviction and power behind those people's voices make it memorable and catchy as hell - the chuckin' guitar running throughout, the little guitar embellishments before the hook, the ominous driving vocals by the I-Threes ... more than necessary to make the song rule mercilessly!

"Forever Loving Jah" heads in a religious direction, likewise in a minimal and repetitive style, and once again it sounds very convincing, with the we'll be forever loving JAH! chants being especially catchy. Then to wrap things up well, there's "Redemption Song" ... acoustic ballads don't get much better than that, although it's more anthemic folk than reggae. It captures Marley at his most vulnerable, confessional, and sincere moment, though he doesn't sound frail at all - it's very moving.

Appropiately, "Redemption SOng" was the last song Marley ever performed live. He died of cancer in 1981. The man was more than a legend. He wasn't just a musician, he was much more than that - he was a warrior. And there's no better song than "Redemption Song" to close not only his career, but his life. All he ever had were redemption songs, he tells us.

So whilst Uprising isn't the smoothest introduction to Marley's music, it's essential for fans. Beautiful album.

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Posted: Thursday 14th Dec 2017 5:51 PM

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