Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Check It! [Alligator, 1983] B+
  • Outcry [Shanachie, 1984] B-
  • The Mystery Unfolds [Shanachie, 1986] A-
  • Any Which Way . . . Freedom [Shanachie, 1989] B+
  • Blakk Wi Blak . . . K . . . K . . . [Shanachie, 1991] ***
  • The Ultimate Collection [Shanachie, 1996] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Check It! [Alligator, 1983]
Is it okay to be impressed by this reggae poet's decidedly unmystical humanist Rastafarianism and still wish his presentation had more of that old-time religion? Though he camouflages his intellectual distance better than Linton Kwesi Johnson, his compassion is less self-effacing, and his dub modernism plays a little too loose with the riddims to suit me. But he has plenty to teach anyone who values reggae strictly for its straightforward charm. B+

Outcry [Shanachie, 1984]
The man has his merits: "Rememberance" rallies consciousness around the grim history of black oppression, and "Sisters Poem" goes a healthy halfway toward opposing Rastafarian sexism. But too often he's just smart enough to be dumb. What he has in mind for the sisters is the pious pedestal of "Black Queen." Those pondering the Palestinian conundrum may be surprised to learn that "Canaan Lan" will revert to the sons of Ham come millennium time. And any well-meaning white lefty who wonders why U.S.-born blacks don't always rush into common cause with West Indians, not to mention well-meaning white lefties, should check out "Blacks in 'Merika," yet another vague, patronizing, moralistic, ignorant tract imposed from yet another outside. B-

The Mystery Unfolds [Shanachie, 1986]
"Dis poem is like all the rest/dis poem will not be amongst great literary works." That's what I call attitude, especially since even the first line is true in its unique way, and both are matters of pride. For the first time, this back-to-nature Rasta is showing some of LKJ's sophistication, and on his own terms--he doesn't inveigh against ice cream or trip over his own hapless sexism, but he declines the blandishments of reason in re technocratic conspiracy and revolutionary entertainment, and his political statement is stronger for it. "Dis poem will not change things/dis poem need to be changed." He insists on calling his songs poems, and he doesn't throw one of them away on the riddim. But he has started letting his words hear the music, which capitalizes on reggae's variety, from dub to jazz to anthem to the unaccompanied "Dis Poem." "Dis poem shall be called/borin/stupid/senseless/dis poem is watchin u/tryin to make sense of dis poem." A-

Any Which Way . . . Freedom [Shanachie, 1989]
I wouldn't give back rock and roll if it were mine to relinquish and Africa's to claim. But for all his ital hit-and-miss, I hope this Afrocentrist is taken seriously--especially when it comes to such crucial matters as God in the sky ("a universal lie") and when-is-a-revolution-not-a revolution? (when it's a revolt). Let it also be noted that he breaks into Afrobeat and pop-funk and chamber-synth more meaningfully than universalists do. B+

Blakk Wi Blak . . . K . . . K . . . [Shanachie, 1991]
all-over-the-place pop genius, scattershot Rasta crank ("The People's Court," "Letter to Congress [Is It Because Wi Blakk]") ***

The Ultimate Collection [Shanachie, 1996]
In which a health-food nut whose definitive album is a decade behind him reconstitutes himself as a people's prophet who has problems with ice cream. Only four of the 16 tracks, including the unanswerable spoken "Dis Poem," are from The Mystery Unfolds; there are just as many nonalbum singles, plus several worthy remixes and a live "Witeman Country." Muta's wisdom and humor greatly exceed the Rasta norm, and since he's always been dub poetry's most musical performer, the working peace he's negotiated with dancehall is no surprise. The surprise is how coherent and compelling his best music seems when it's gathered in one place awaiting humanity's attention and respect. A

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