[6 November 2007]
Is it even possible to say anything negative about Bob Marley at this point? He’s one of the most influential, respected, instantly identifiable artists ever to have lived, and unless you’re one of those people who drives around with a “Say NO! to drugs” bumper sticker on your car, there’s not all that much about Bob Marley’s career and life that you could point to and find flaws with. There’s a certain feeling that enters a room when a Bob Marley song shows up on the stereo—the smiles are a little more knowing, the vibe a little more relaxed, and the necks a bit looser. Everybody nods, a few people sing, the obnoxious dude on the far side of the room shouts, “godDAMN I love me some Bob Marley”, and life goes on, not changed per se, but enhanced a bit.
As such, it’s nearly impossible to approach something whose sole purpose is to tinker with Marley’s legacy with anything approaching objectivity. Even so, the knowledge that new remix compilation Roots, Rock, Remixed is endorsed by the folks in charge of Marley’s legacy lends it a sense of legitimacy. Plus, DJ Shadow’s involved. How bad could it be?
Honestly, it’s not that bad at all. Every remix on the album is respectfully done, augmenting very obviously analog masters with very obviously digital instrumentation. The juxtaposition of the two is not quite as obvious or heinous as it looks in print, however, and the remixers do a good job of keeping squelchy noises and trance divas out of their remixes. I’m awfully happy to say that Shadow himself does a fabulous job with “Rainbow Country”, speeding it up a bit, bumping up the bass levels, and giving it a subtle bump in the percussion department, adding to the complexity while never taking away from the structure and feel of the song. This is how a Bob Marley song might sound had it been recorded last week rather than so many years ago, and probably the least dance-oriented track on the album. DJ Shadow has done the man’s legacy proud.
Another expected success comes to us from the production collective that is Fort Knox Five. “Duppy Conqueror” is an incredible song to start with, and Fort Knox Five dive into it headfirst with one of the album’s busier arrangements. Still, their knack for plopping percussion on top of more percussion makes for a suitably deep groove, one that suits Marley and The Wailers’ vocals wonderfully. Yes King’s take on “Sun is Shining”, placed just after “Duppy Conqueror”, turns out to be another standout, a track that could probably trick you into thinking it was a Marley original if you weren’t already familiar with that original. Only the vaguest hints of studio trickery (extra echoes, a few whooshes and squelchy noises) mark “Sun is Shining” as a remixed production; mostly it retains the slow, measured pace of Marley’s version, also toeing the relaxed-yet-intense line that Marley so skillfully treaded for so much of his career.
As was to be expected when the very idea of Roots, Rock, Remixed was announced, however, it’s hard to retain that immediacy while trying to update the sound that Marley trademarked. Afrodisiac Sound System take on two tracks, “Soul Shakedown” and “Soul Rebel”, and while the production sounds great, the simplistic beats and minimal updates actually take away from the effect of the original. There’s no build and no intensity, just a rolling backbeat content to cruise along until the track is done. More egregious are late-album picks like Trio Eletrico’s take on “Trenchtown Rock” and the nearly unlistenable version of “400 Years” courtesy of someone or something called “Jimpster”. Reducing Marley to a few seconds’ worth of repeated samples and incorporating those samples into dance tracks was not the way to go on this album. These two tracks are proof of that. While the beats are fine and all, the lack of song makes them boring after a minute or two. Given that Jimpster stretches “400 Years” to six-and-a-half minutes, this is a very bad thing, enough to inspire a change of CD before the actually-pretty-decent take on “One Love” that closes the disc.
The mileage one eventually gets from Roots, Rock, Remixed depends largely on what the album is taken as. As a new entry in the Marley oeuvre, it’s hopelessly inconsistent and largely devoid of the Marley magic. As a simple remix compilation from which mixtape tracks can be culled, however, it does its job just fine, throwing a bone or two to just about any conceivable DJ who might want an easy way to incorporate some Bob Marley in the setlist. Add in the tremendous respect it shows to its font of inspiration, and the end result is an album not nearly as bad as it could have been; not nearly as bad as a fan of Bob Marley could rightfully expect it to be.