Picks and Pans Review: Survival

updated 02/04/1980 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/04/1980 01:00AM

Bob Marley & The Wailers

Anyone put off by Marley's boring album Kaya—musical self-indulgence with listless lyrics like "Excuse me while I light my spliff"—can rejoice that this time the Master cleared his head. Survival does have some of the "home to Zion" mystical quality of Rastaman Chant, an early Wailers arrangement of a traditional slave dirge. But there's also a terrific variety of musical approaches within the reggae format—from the plaintive So Much Trouble to Ride Natty Ride, a galloping cha-cha that updates Marley's famed dread-locked hero. More important, Marley has banished the gimmickry of the past (the synthesizers, excessive brass, chorale overlays) and freed the whiplike sharpness of Aston Barrett's guitar. Marley's lyrics have seldom been more powerful in their call for black unity than in Zimbabwe. But for all his power as a lyricist, he still weakens nearly every song with irritating interjections of nonsense drivel—"ye-a-h," "shoo-be-doo," "oo-ee"—echoed by the I-Threes, his all-woman backup group. Otherwise this is Marley's most energetic, melodic, all-around listenable album since Rastaman Vibration. Jan be praised!

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