Review: Colin Irwin, Melody Maker May 1984

It’s been three years now. And the peculiar thing is it’s as if it never happened… Marley is still there. Material has continued to be forthcoming whether it’s early re-releases or stuff held back like the bulk of ‘Confrontation’, he’s intermittently in the charts and is regularly heard on the radio.

It would, of course, be the powerful wash of sentiment always reserved for anyone with exceptional talent who dies young. But it’s not, it’s gone on too long and has been too determined for that. No, the only logical conclusion is that history is comprehensively proving that Bob Marley was a greater artist than ever his legend tells us.

Listening to this collection some of those outrageous claims for him as a visionary and prophet don’t seem quite so wildly ludicrous. They were just songs but they said – and are still saying – so much, not just for Rastafarians but mankind in general.

‘Redemption song’, solo, acoustic, beautiful and heartbreaking, stands as a giant even among the veritable goldmine of gems on this album. ‘Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery / none but ourselves can free our mind’ he wails, and while the message may have been intended for his own people, there are few of any religious/political persuasion it can fail to touch.

It has been claimed that Marley had a vision of his own death when he wrote ‘Redemption Song’, which is probably nonsense, but it’s still hypnotic epitaph, embodying all his ideals in one extraordinarily moving song.

The lesson of this compilation is that it doesn’t matter if you hate reggae music or if you get a bit tetchy when the Thompson Twins start whacking out the old African rhythms… if there’s a thread of sensitivity in your body you’ll worship this album. Fourteen tracks, most of them hits, spanning a decade from the yelping buoyancy of ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ to the fist-clenching defiance of ‘Get Up Stand Up’, the subtly lewd ‘Stir It Up’ to the celebratory ‘On Love’. Also included are classics like ‘No Woman No Cry’ (the live version), the posthumous hit ‘Buffalo Soldier’ and the climatic ‘Exodus’.

Island Records have maintained admirable dignity during the upsurge of the post-death Marley industry. A greatest hits package was inevitable at some stage, indeed necessary… it’s to the credit of all concerned that it’s as meticulously assembled and as stylish as this one.