Legend, by Bob Marley
Suggested by Mike Major
Not many musicians could get away with naming their album Legend.
Elvis? Sure. Freddie? Yeah. Prince? Probably. Eminem? I guess. Cher? Likely. Meatloaf? Okay. Madonna? Certainly. Rhianna? Yes. Beyonce? Yup. Lemmy? DEFINITELY.
Each of these acts has a one-word name. Perhaps that’s a factor? If so, it’s looking rosy for Sia.
And then there’s Bob Marley. While he has more than a one-word name (which is a blessing… “Appearing live at Wembley Stadium… BOB!” doesn’t sound particularly legendary), he’s certainly got the necessary minerals.
I mean, just look at the tracklist on this beast! We have fourteen reggae standards, of which I know eight without popping a zit. The entire first half of the album is a cavalcade of bankable hits, from the not-Whitesnake Is This Love to the not-Neneh-Cherry Buffalo Soldier. The second half is similarly stacked, from the not-Body-Count I Shot The Sheriff to the not-Hartley’s Jamming. Every song is catchy, evocative and above all memorable.
But are they good?
I’ve reviewed exactly one reggae album thus far, some ninety-nine albums ago: the ground-breaking Heart of the Congos, by The Congos. I scored that seminal work with a middling 5/10. Legend is the biggest selling Reggae album of all time, and it’s packed recognisable bangers, so it’s sure to score highly, no?
It’s not Bob Marley’s fault. It’s the genre itself. Reggae, to me, suffers from Double-dip Repetition. On the first layer, the genre layer, the signature reggae upstroked guitar and much-replicated drum sound set their stall early. They create the reggae sound, goddamn it, so don’t ask for anything else. On the second layer of repetition, we get the repetition that’s within each song itself, where the chorus becomes a single phrase sang four, eight, or sixteen times on the bounce. It’s one reason the songs are so memorable… there aren’t that many moving parts to keep your eye on.
Perhaps the Prog is finally snaking its greasy tendrils around my heart, but I feel Reggae is so structurally simple, so point and counterpoint, so catch and release, that I’m bored of it all rather quickly. It’s a few lines of verse then a chorus, then a few lines of verse and more chorus, repeated ad infinitum. And each chorus is one or two bespoke phrases repeated over and over, sometimes sung by many people at once. Then the song ends, and a new one begins. Second Verse, Same As The First.
So while I know the songs and acknowledge their pedigree, I’d never embrace them as a sound I’d seek out for personal pleasure. Even my favourite track, I Shot The Sheriff, is likely so because I yearn for a full-on gangster rap cover version. “I shot the sheriff (f**k da police!) / Popped a cap into the deputy.”
Despite its legendary status, Bob only gets 5/10. Let’s hope he’s not Wailing about it.