I'm having a hard time with this CD. Maybe it's because I've known too many annoying college kids who smoke up to Bob Marley. Maybe I've heard too many third-rate reggae bands who steal this sound but fail to capture the magic. Or maybe I'm still bitter about the dude from The Wailers who crashed in my living room for a couple of days many years ago. (He made what might be the best stew I've ever tasted, but I've still got a weird feeling about the guy and I have no idea why.)
Whatever the reason, I'm having a hard time. I know Bob Marley is great, and I know Catch A Fire is considered to be one of the greatest Bob Marley albums. Everyone who knows anything about music is supposed to be completely gaga about this, but to me, it sounds like The Eagles.
I know that's not fair, if for no other reason than this album overflows with honest-to-God heart and soul, while The Eagles never cared about much other than scoring coke and screwing girls. But still, this is as slick and polished as an Eagles album. The backup singers, the instrumentation, the melodies, the chords... everything about it is just so... so... so perfect. And when I think of what Marley was singing about, perfect seems like the completely wrong sound.
I'm giving the album a five-library-card rating, because regardless of my personal biases, it really is a perfect record. The lyrics possess depth and, unlike the dreck that The Eagles spit out, are a call for positive revolution. The guitar solo in "Concrete Jungle" is gorgeous. The bass is fluid and melodic, yet completely rhythmic. The backup singers in "Stir It Up" are reinventing '50s R&B and doo-wop. Peter Tosh's voice is powerful. And Bob Marley rides on top of it all like a ray of sunlight that warms the entire thing and brings it all together. This is an album that nearly anyone should be able to appreciate, regardless of whether they like Black Flag or Barry Manilow.
(Note: The EPFL's version of Catch A Fire contains two tracks that weren't on the original release. There is also a 2CD set that came out a few years ago that includes a whole bunch of extra songs, but I didn't see that one at Pratt.)
The package is pretty straightforward: photos, lyrics, credits. The thing that makes it stand out is the cover photo of Marley smoking a joint. Whether you're pro- or anti-marijuana, it was a pretty courageous move by Island Records -- especially in 1973. I don't know how much controversy it sparked (bad choice of words... sorry!), but Catch A Fire broke reggae to international audiences, so I have to assume that the cover stirred up some trouble.
Listen if you like: The Eagles. KIDDING! This is one to check out if you like pretty much any music from the past 30 years. You can hear its influence on everything from punk to hip-hop to the '70s breeze-rock schlock that Mr. Henley and Co. were writing.
If it were food, it'd be: beans. It's a healthy foundation for countless meals, regardless of whether you're wealthy or flat broke.