Review: Angus MacKinnon, NME Oct 1977

THIRD WORLD are in something of a predicament. Six young, well to do Jamaicans, they acquitted themselves well supporting Marley and The Wailers on their ’76 UK Tour’ then released a first album that elicited sharply polarised reactions.

Some took “Third World” to task for its lack of roots, reggae, roughness and commitment, others (our own CSM among them) praised its eclecticism and knowing sophistication.

The band’s approach was certainly lateral. The album featured little original material but instead balanced renditions of JA torch songs (by the Spear) against others of American soul classics. Third World themselves landed somewhere between these two tangents – extremes that were, after all, more closely related in earlier days when Jamaican’s musicians looked to the American mainland for a large part of their inspiration. Third World’s hybrid was soft-focussed, making much (and good) use of studio and instrumental technology.

For their troubles, Third World were awarded honours and accolades in Jamaica. 1977 has seen them touring the US, East and West coast college circuit and thinking very hard about a second album. “96 Degrees” is the result of months spent recording, scrapping, mixing, remixing.

Bunny Wailer’s tender “Dreamland” is the only non-original here. The other seven songs are – well, just check the titles: “Jah Glory”, “Tribal War”, “Human Market Place”, “Third World Man”, and so forth. At least the apparent stylistic conflict of the first album has been resolved.

From here on in it’s a matter of person preference. If you’re already conversant with current JA sounds, then Third World aren’t likely to impress. Bassist Richard Daley and drummer William Stewart cut neat but lightweight rhythms. The lead vocals by Bunny (not the ex-Wailer) are uncharismatic, by no means strong; the band’s lyrics are almost uncomfortably earnest, never entirely convincing. As it is, most other JA singers succeed in lending their chosen articles of faith far greater poignancy. Third World’s “Jah Glory”, for example, may be one of several undeniably pleasant melodies but it’s hardly the ecstatic hymn of praise you might anticipate. Even the title song (also the single) fails to strike fire, despite its dealing with some callous execution ritual committed by the British Imperial Army last century. The power simple isn’t there, boys.

If on the other hand you’re wary of JA and can’t seem to find a suitable entry point into a proud, self-supportive music (but want to), then Third World could conceivably provide that access. The band describe themselves as second generation JA musicians searching to expand the horizons of the inheritance. The songs are very well arranged. Both sides open with Michael Cooper’s layered synthesisers evoking uncharted tropical latitudes of mysterious grandeur. Stephen Moore’s lead guitar is uniformly excellent, whether electric (with devices) or acoustic (without); he admired Hendrix and it shows.

The African, American and all compass points influences on Third World are obvious, but they assimilate them carefully. Weak though the rhythms may be on the JA scale, they’re firm enough.
Myself I don’t care that much for “96 Degrees” though the group are thoughtful, sincere, individuals and their work deserves to be heard, postulating as it does one of many possible ways in which JA music might take some Great Leap Outward from its embattled citadel. Whether or not that Leap is desirable (or even necessary) is something else.

Angus MacKinnon