Friday, January 11, 2008

No. 319: Burnin'

Band: The Wailers
Album: Burnin'
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The final full Wailers album, "Burnin'" has two of the band's classic tracks one of which is, easily, the best Peter Tosh/Bob Marley collaboration.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Save for those two tracks, the album isn't consistently strong.
Best song: That collaboration, "Get Up, Stand Up," is among the band's best work. "I Shot the Sheriff" is so vastly superior to the Clapton version, it's not even funny.
Worst song: Bunny Livingston's "Pass It On" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Not really.

"Burnin'" isn't far from "The Harder They Come" in tone. I can't begin to understand the conflicts in Jamaica in the 1970s, but the militancy of the band shows through on "Burnin'."

The album's two standout tracks are, in fact, less conciliatory than previous Wailers tracks. In the same way that "The Message" is different than "Straight Outta Compton," "I Shot The Sheriff" is different from "Concrete Jungle." "I Shot The Sheriff" has Marley taking back the justice that he believes he deserves. Marley famously said:

"I want to say 'I shot the police' but the government would have made a fuss so I said 'I shot the sheriff' instead... but it's the same idea: justice."

The song's breakdown is nearly perfect. The guitar line -- I assume the reason Clapton took the song in the first place -- is striking as it moves down the scale and Marley wails "If I am guilty, I will pay!" It's a haunting song and among the band's greatest.

The rest of the record is full of rerecorded early Wailers songs, misplaces anger and mediocre cliched reggae. Overall, not the best work the band has done, but the highlights are awfully high.

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