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Bob Marley Exodus (1977)


Time Magazine once voted this record the “album of the century” – they’re pretty nutty there in Time Magazine. Which doesn’t mean that Exodus isn’t exactly, er, eligible for the position. Without a doubt, it is the most serious album Marley ever recorded, actually, the one recorded from high atop Bob’s unreachable position as Grand Speaker for Jah.

The title here is ambiguous: on one hand, the “exodus” as described in the title track symbolizes the propagation of Rastafarian ideas all over the world, on the other hand, it is also personal – after an unsuccessful attempt to take Marley’s life at the end of 1976 when a group of people attacked him and Rita at his house in Jamaica, Bob decided to leave the Rasta homeland for some time, and Exodus was written and recorded in London. Not from within the reggae ambience, thus – from an “outside” position, which only adds further solemnity to the project.

Therefore, even if you don’t like Exodus as compared to Marley’s earlier efforts, it is still hard not to respect this “monumental” statement of faith and purpose. I, for instance, don’t consider it to be among his strongest albums; even more, it contains the first Marley song that I truly cannot stand, and that is the stupid proto-adult contemporary soft ballad ‘Turn Your Lights Down Low’, which does boast the usual Marley atmosphere, but offers you absolutely nothing worthwhile – here, the standard reggae beat isn’t complemented by anything interesting.

Likewise, I find songs like ‘Guiltiness’ overreaching, and songs like ‘Jamming’ overrated. But don’t let that bother you! Most of the songs are still cool, and there’s such a strong religious vibe running through most of the tracks that the whole of this album is definitely huger than the sum of its parts. It’s kinda like Marley’s All Things Must Pass, only not so strong on the melodies.

The centerpiece of the album, of course, is the title track – arguably the lengthiest reggae track ever recorded, but worth every minute of it. The pulsating, inspired drive of the track easily rivals any of the angriest funk anthems you’ll find on this planet, and the song would have been convincing enough even if it only had the band chanting ‘Exodus! Movement of Jah people!’ for all of these seven minutes. But no, then again, maybe not – it’s the way these chants alternate with Marley’s wails, grizzly-grumbly wah-wah lead lines and occasional ‘Move! Move! Move!’ screams, all culminating in a jam that was certainly the most anthemic and majestic thing Marley had created to date. You can almost see bunches of dedicated Rastafarians gathering round the fire to chant this ominous thing…

Of course, ‘Exodus’ is not the only thing of interest on this record. The entire first side, apart from maybe ‘Guiltiness’ which is one of those few Marley songs I don’t quite “get”, qualifies as a ‘serious listen’. ‘Natural Mystic’ fades in with a chuckin’ reggae rhythm that’s instantly recognizable, yet there’s something about it that sounds more wisened up, more professional than before. I guess it’s just a clever production trick, with a deeper echo than usual, but it’s a clever production trick.

The lyrics are more philosophical and religious than usual – evading Marley’s standard social critiques and lamentations and concentrating on the entirely spiritual side of the problem. Then, ‘So Much Things To Say’ lightens up the atmosphere with the addition of I-Threes backing vocals and a simpler message of praise and gratification; ‘Guiltiness’, on the other hand, crashing out of the previous song without any break, turns the praise to Jah into a threatening prophecy addressed to those who :”live their lives on false pretence everyday” and are “the big fish who always try to eat down the small fish”. Beware! “They’ll eat the bread of sorrow”. What a shame that, like on ‘War’ before it, Marley gets so entangled in the Biblical imagery and social meditation that he forgets to insert a musical hook.

Which he doesn’t forget to do on ‘The Heathen’ – it’s short and concise, and makes a perfect introduction to ‘Exodus’ as a simpler, “cruder”, but hardly less effective Rastafarian chant. A chant of war! For the glory of Jah, no less. Note the magnificent lead guitar work throughout, probably courtesy of Aston Barrett.

The second side of the album is significantly ‘milder’ and softer – which does culminate in the particular low point of ‘Turn Your Lights Down Low’, but which also gives Marley a chance to praise Jah in a more relaxing and humble mood on the world-famous ‘Jamming’, which might be overrated but is still pretty catchy, and which also allows him to grace the world with another magnificent ballad, ‘Waiting In Vain’. Surprisingly many people choose the song as their favourite on the album, and that’s understandable – Marley doesn’t come up with simple, unpretentious love ballads that often, but when he does, a simple, effective hook (here – the chorus) coupled with unmatched sincerity and warm feeling creates wonders.

One might complain that the last two songs of the album let down its Messianistic imagery, but personally, I think that starting the album on the most serious of notes and letting it end with a couple of lightweight, funny chants of consolation and optimism was a true stroke of genius. ‘Three Little Birds’ has an unforgettable synth riff, and ‘One Love/People Get Ready’ is one of the few “let’s gather round and sing a unifying song of happiness” tracks in the world that I can stomach, much as I usually detest the genre (just look what a horror a band like Queen made out of it). But when Marley and company chant ‘let’s get together and feel all right’, there’s no denying the genuine emotions of this simple, totally non-hypocritic, open call for friendship.

Exodus is a mythical album – one of those few records reviews for which tend to seriously baffle those who haven’t actually heard the record in question, because instead of direct descriptions and categorizations all we get is a vague subjective “evaluation” of the album and a few metaphysical metastatements that the review’s authors are hardly able to explain the meaning of themselves. But in this particular case, while I’m hardly qualified to try and explain all the sides of the Exodus myth, there’s one thing I can say for sure: you may like or dislike Exodus, but it truly deserves its mythical status.

It’s probably not the best choice for your first Marley album, but if you liked the earlier classics, I dare say you’ll find yourself agreeing with me over this one in no time.

December 30, 2013 Posted by | Bob Marley Exodus | | Leave a comment