Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Too Bad

Reggae's most enlightened ex-rude boy keeps themes righteous; beats, less so

Blessed with the biggest voice and most active conscience in dancehall reggae, and only twenty-seven as the millennium turned, Buju Banton lost his way. His political message softened, and, crucially, both his 2000 Unchained Spirit, on punk-linked Anti-, and 2003's Friends for Life, on reggae powerhouse VP/Atlantic, were more crooned than toasted. So this return to basics is a welcome improvement -- stateside, Banton's never released such a headlong album. Also welcome is how skillfully he skirts the crude sexism and gangsta-influenced posturing that are today's ragga norm. But that's not to say he's got a bunch of crossover smashes here -- fact is, he doesn't even have one. The beats hammer along, often relying on pleasingly weird and surprisingly effective low-pitched sounds in the organ family. But only with "Me and Oonu" -- lifted by a loop of "Walk Don't Run" -- do they take off. For three minutes.

Rolling Stone, Dec. 14, 2006