Modern reggae is a total non-entity in the UK. Dancehall dons like Elephant Man get in the charts when they guest on r'n'b songs, Trojan and Soul Jazz still pump out compilations, dubstep has got us talking about dub again, and Bob Marley's Legend will sell a kajillion copies a year until the Earth falls into the sun – but that's about it for Jamaican music in the mainstream. Welcome to Jamrock notwithstanding, most people are probably barely aware that roots reggae is still being made and hasn't just died off like disco. Personally, I've never bought reggae any that was recorded in my lifetime.
Serious Times, unfortunately, is unlikely to kick off a revival. It brings together sixteen tracks plus a few remixes, unmixed on one CD and mixed on the other by Max Glazer of New York's Federation Sounds, who overdubs cheering, air horns, and incongruous rooster sounds 'to give the listener the feeling of being at a reggae club at 4am'.
The whole mix suffers by comparison to its monumental opening track, Turbulence's Notorious (reviewed in this month's Dummy newsletter), which is already old enough to have got on Diplo's 2005 FabricLive mix. Produced by Brooklyn's 77Klash, who you may also know from his bars on Team Shadetek's Brooklyn Anthem, it's the very definition of tough, even though, a bit like some of Sufjan Stevens' songs, you realise after about a minute that it's about how awesome God is. I Wayne's Living In Love is the next track and the next best thing here, as he croons about politician's 'plastic smile and wicked intention' over a vintage bounce. And only a monster would have a bad word to say about ten-year-old QQ's performance on Poverty.
But too many of these songs are overproduced like the worst of eighties r'n'b, as gooey and synthetic as Herbal Essences. On Ain't Gonna Fall Sizzla, who is capable of much better, sings over unctuous Radio 2 saxophones with a message about positive thinking so abstracted it could be a Coldplay lyric. On Lucky You, Manlo uses a dated vocoder effect to make his yearning for a wife and child even more nauseatingly earnest. Morris Man's Home & Away is as neutered and anodyne as the television series which which it shares its name. (Plus, I don't want to diss anyone's religion or anything, but isn't it a bit late in the day to be insisting, as Richie Spice does on Marijuana, that 'Marijuana cures disease'?)
There's nothing radically wrong with Serious Times, but I just can't imagine why you'd choose it over the relics of reggae's golden age in the sixties and seventies that are still being unearthed every month. To be honest, I know little or nothing about this stuff, and maybe it's just an acquired taste – but then it only took one listen for me to recognise Notorious (and, for that matter, Welcome to Jamrock) as the triumph it is.
Released 26/1 on XL