Jah Wobble (real name: John Wardle) is something of a hero to music-lovers of a certain age. A school friend of both John Lydon and John Beverley (aka Sid Vicious), Wobble emerged as one of the cutting edge pioneers of post-punk when he formed Public Image Limited (PIL) in 1978—with the post-Sex Pistols Lydon—and contributed to the two most influential albums of that extraordinary era: the band’s eponymous first LP, and the iconic Metal Box. Wobble’s opening bassline to PIL’s first single, “Public Image”, still strikes a euphoric chord.
Wobble, an abrasive bruiser from his youth, fell out with Lydon and the other members of PIL in 1980. Since then, he has pursued a musical journey of increasing freedom and adventurism, all of which was founded on his prowess and dexterity on the bass guitar. The demise of the British popular music press and the fragmentation of what used to be known as “rock” means that we no longer see readers’ polls of “best lead singer” or “best bassist”; but if these polls were still running, Wobble would be a strong candidate to top the list for the latter.
In Dub is a collection of Wobble’s work, including tracks with his periodic band, The Invaders of The Heart, dating back to the mid-’80s. It’s a collection picked out by the man himself, and is as welcoming an entrée to dub as you’re likely to ever encounter.
Dub has never been the most accessible music, as it’s more suited to the ambient dancehall crowd than those looking to stretch out over the length of a long-player—which, in In Dub’s case, amounts to a grand 140 minutes. But Wobble’s skill, whether in his progressively audacious forays into world music eclecticism or mining his core dependency of roots reggae, has been to construct rolling seamless soundscapes that may occasionally jar but don’t often grate. Plus, this man understands the art of space within musical pieces like few others, a virtuosity that carries a more resonant impact in dub than probably in any other musical genre.
As a result, In Dub works best as a single aural experience (especially after repeated listenings). It transports you to Japan (although “Shinto Dub” is actually one of the missteps here because it lacks rhythm and melody), the Maghreb bazaar (“Cleopatra King Size”, the busy, percussive opener), East London (“Forest Gate Dub”) or into the solar system and beyond (“Inspector Out Of Space”, one of the two new tracks recorded with killer producer Youth; it’s silky cosmic groove is a pleasure).
It would be picky to cavil, but the vocodered Wobble vocal on a couple of the tracks is not a good idea, as he sounds like a poor man’s Ian Brown. Although not a natural vocalist, he sings better when unadorned by trickery, as demonstrated on the exquisite “I’d Love to take You Away”, of which the dub version is a showcase in how dub can add to, as well as subtract from, other elements.
The 2016 Jah Wobble is a very different beast than the hooligan who teamed up his with his mate Lydon nearly four decades ago. Longtime clean and sober, he has discarded the rough edges of his younger days, and In Dub frames a first-grade musical explorer who rightly deserves the kudos he has earned over the years—underlined by his list of collaborators, ranging from Adrian Sherwood to The Edge. One of the stand-out tracks is the insidious nine-minute extravaganza, “Invaders of the Heart (Decadent Disco Mix)”, written and played by Wobble and his band, who are back touring again. Catch them if you can: masters of their craft, headed by head teacher Wobble.