Published Jun 27, 2018It's inevitable that strains of money, fame and time cause factions and fraction in any genre. Unbreakable: Alborosie Meets the Wailers United, the fresh effort by Alborosie, is an effort to capture all the strands of reggae's sonic palette, subject matter, and spiritual essence and braid it lock tight so it can hang with the mightiest dread. The album largely succeeds in bringing the mountain to Marley, but if anything, its only weakness is that it is trying to do everything at once.
Nonetheless, it's a powerful feat of artistry that is respectful, realistic, and rooted deep in the realities of present day — with no bad songs. The strength of this entire piece is that Alborosie is trying to gather the memories of the movement in the modern moment, and is conspicuously good at it. The dollar bins of every record store in the western world are full of burned-out and forgettable reggae singles, it is not a small music to represent.
Cynics may scoff at the lavish opening track, as Alborosie adds Metallica's "The Unforgiven" to the canon of left-field reggae cover versions. However, there is something in the strumming of the guitar lines that bring the melody of hard rock to jamrock in symmetry. Hetfield and Ulrich might not forgive, but Jah's forgiveness for fallen soldiers is infinite.
As a forward-thinking traditionalist, Alborosie traces the lineage of reggae music; Unbreakable is equal parts a cook's tour and a legends game. On "Mystical Reggae" (itself a history of Jamaican music, where Alborosie name checks Marley and Tosh, the Abyssinians and Burning Spear) we get a collage of all the low base, cubby effects, drums that knock and gorgeous voices, a true blending of the '60s, '70s and '80s.
The backing musicians are all former members of Bob Marley's Wailers band, so to say that they are tight, have the touch, and groove with a magical rhythm — the full measures of laudatory critical bafflegab wind up an understatement. The music is as heavy and authentic as Kingston heat, and as anointed Wailers frontman, Alborosie lyrically stares through "the eyes of a rebel" playing "the music the righteous love to play" and asserts that he will "step to Babylon with no fear."
Willing to take the fundamental ideas that bolstered his culture's spread through the global Jamaican diaspora, Alborosie endeavours to plumb the depths of humanity and make songs about the role of truth in our lives. On "Lie" he tables a dissects the emerging power of falseness in modern culture from the statehouse, to the cop shop, to social media.
Over sprightly '70s synths and eventually ceding to a folky acoustic guitar, on "Live Conscious" he is concerned with his role as sonic torch bearer and ideological advocate for the blessed awareness of positive living that still stems from reggae's roots. Alborosie is keenly aware that many consumers of his culture will preach their hashtaggable "wokehood" while their listening is predominantly mired in music about sex, money and violence. Later aided by megastar Chronixx, he delves into the violence, acquisitiveness and macho posturing in reggae today, from the radio to the dancehall, willing to finds the music at odds with its guiding principles.
Track for track, from jump-up bangers to slow burners to triply dub excursions, Unbreakable represents the spirit of reggae music in as pure and vital a form as can be found today. Alborosie and the Wailers United succeed in communicating that if you love your life, but are not happy with the way of this world, one must identify a righteous path, and only by walking it, can we find and hopefully live some truth. (VP)