Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Jimmy Cliff

  • Wonderful World, Beautiful People [A&M, 1970] B+
  • Unlimited [Reprise, 1973] B-
  • Music Maker [Reprise, 1974] C
  • Follow My Mind [Reprise, 1975] C+
  • In Concert/The Best of Jimmy Cliff [Reprise, 1976] C+
  • Give Thankx [Warner Bros., 1978] B-
  • The Power and the Glory [Columbia, 1983] C+

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Wonderful World, Beautiful People [A&M, 1970]
If I told you that the two other great songs here are called "Many Rivers to Cross" and "Viet Nam," would you agree that naming this album after its "hit" amounts to false advertising? Yet running through all the protest and self-help is a good cheer independent of message--partly in the headlong tempos and drum explosions, partly in Cliff's own sweet fervor. B+

Unlimited [Reprise, 1973]
I found this tremendously disappointing at first--not one song I could hang my head on. But the political analysis is at the very least sensible, no common thing in popular music, Cliff's singing is earnest and spirited enough to give the analysis some immediacy. And in a few cases--"Born to Win," "The Price of Peace," and especially "Under the Sun, Moon and Stars," about his parents--it isn't just the message that puts the tune across. B-

Music Maker [Reprise, 1974]
It's time we reminded ourselves that there are only four Jimmy Cliff songs on The Harder They Come. His other great ones are on Wonderful World, Beautiful People. The nearest this surprisingly ornate and dinky album comes to a good one is the indictment of Island Records' Chris Blackwell as a "No. 1 Rip-Off Man," very timely given what Island has just scrounged up for its own Jimmy Cliff album, Struggling Man. But both records portend a nonstar of the future--or a false one. C

Follow My Mind [Reprise, 1975]
Seekers after a reggae triumvirate insist that this album is an improvement, which is stretching the truth--the singing's a shade tougher, the writing's a shade sharper, and there are two relatively striking tracks, both of which detail Cliff's paranoia. Elsewhere he's still a victim of the folkie fallacy, in which to sing rhymed homilies clearly and sincerely is to make good music. C+

In Concert/The Best of Jimmy Cliff [Reprise, 1976]
In which Cliff rerecords all the great songs he cut originally for Island and A&M--that is, all the great songs he's written, about six total--at a new royalty rate. Always a passionately soulful live performer, he puts a lot into them, but the exigencies of in-concert arrangement take more out, and only "Viet Nam," with its litany of war-torn Third World countries, offers anything radically new. Also new are a cover of Cat Stevens's "Wild World," a singalong movie theme, and a brief sermon about the universal language. C+

Give Thankx [Warner Bros., 1978]
Cliff hasn't evinced this much interest in years, and his female backup sounds as sisterly as Bob Marley's. But any artist whose most specific songs concern spiritual deliverance--talkin' 'bout "Bongo Man" and, yep, "Universal Love"--isn't out of the ether yet. B-

The Power and the Glory [Columbia, 1983]
He never gives up, and he never learns from his mistakes, exemplified by the stupefying professionalism with which his authentic JA band negotiates the U.S. pop-funk beats and changes on side one. Nor does he ever take full advantage of his gifts, exemplified by the gracefully sung and adequately conceived international pop-reggae protest on side two. C+

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