Sold Out But Still Worth Reviewing
was this Bob Marley & The Wailers album worth buying as a costly UHQR release?
How do you know a reissue is a sonic success? There's no checklist but I've been playing an original pressing since it was first released and occasionally the Mobile Fidelity Anadisc 200 reissue, so when the stylus dropped onto "Jamming" (I always first play side 2) I wasn't expecting any major surprises.
The opening drum flourish indicated a new level of transparency and clarity, which was nice to hear but the percussive jingle after Marley exclaims "ooh yea!" was startling. At first I thought a glass had fallen off a shelf and broken behind the speaker.
From there it quickly became clear that this mastering was so far superior to both the original and especially the muffled and undistinguished Mo-Fi (among the late Stan Ricker's worst). Every percussive accent, drum smack and addictively rubbery bass line took on greater natural luster. The reverb behind Marley's vocals now stood out with unforced clarity.
I think this record starts shipping today (Feb. 24th) so I'm happy to tell buyers who love this most commercial and pleasing Bob Marley album that their money was well spent. The bass on the record is not particularly deep and Ryan Smith avoided Stan's mistake, which was to try to force out what's not on the tape. That move muddied up the MoFi's bottom end and cast a sonic cloud over the rest. On the new UHQR the bass attack is clean, but not overstated. It's ideal.
Speaking of clouds, Marley wrote the songs for this record and Kaya—20 in all—after fleeing Jamaica following an assassination attempt. He sings about it on the mellow "Jamming" and ends the record with the upbeat, optimistic and healing "One Love/People Get Ready" that became the informal Jamaican national anthem.
From beginning to end, the mellow vibe almost hides Marley's militant/mystical side with lyrics like:
"This could be the first trumpet/Might as well be the last/Many more will have to suffer/Many more will have to die" on the album's opener "Natural Mystic" and enigmatic lines like "When the rain fall, it don't fall on one man's rooftop". On "Guiltiness" Marley sings about oppression: "These are the big fish, Who always try to eat down the small fish, Just the small fish, I tell you what: they would do anything To materialize their every wish." He sings about standing up and fighting on "The Heathen" and of course on the title track, about liberation and freedom. But all is presented laid back and easy to groove to.
The recording, accomplished in London on 24 tracks at Island's Basing Street Studios, was Marley's most sophisticated (a few tracks, as is pointed out in Leroy Jodie Pierson's excellent 2022 annotation written for this UHQR release, were recorded in Jamaica to 16 tracks that were then transferred to 24 tracks). That was clear on previous versions but never as clearly, transparently and three-dimensionally as on this UHQR edition.
If you were lucky enough to score one of these, you will not be disappointed!