Not Quite Rebirth
Whenever an album is titled Renaissance, Rebirth, or Revival, it simultaneously invokes feelings of both dread and intense curiosity. Has our favorite artist stumbled upon a keen new sound, or have they decided to “give the people what they want?” Is this a much-needed overhaul to get our boys back on track, or is it a tidy repackaging for general consumption? For fans of Jimmy Cliff, the sad answer to his newest album, Rebirth, is that it’s largely a misnomer: Jimmy Cliff serves us up another helping of the same old, same old dolled up in the guise of dancehall reggae.
From the moment reggae was first recorded, there has been a harsh divide between those who have tried to use traditional rhythms to make contemporary statements, and those who have overlaid those same rhythms onto mainstream sounds. The divide is seen largely in the vast gap in record sales between the two camps. Jimmy Cliff has been one of those artists who has taken the latter track, but with a twist. Instead of trying to infuse the reggae formula into current pop, Jimmy Cliff’s taken the sounds of swing and latter-day big band, and crafted songs in that style within the framework of reggae’s signature 3/4 beat, which remains more-or-less the same throughout the whole album. The result, however, is hardly as triumphant as it sounds. Sounding largely like some clandestine, lost Amy Winehouse reggae concept record. Jimmy Cliff stays largely within his bailiwick of simple original songs and a few key covers. Trying to court the “indie crowd,” Rebirth offers covers of “Guns of Brixton” and “Ruby Soho,” (from Rebirth‘s producer Tim Armstrong’s band Rancid) though both haven’t a single iota of the fire of the originals. The sorest spot on the album though is “Reggae Music,” a broadstroked, overly pat summation of the history of the genre.
With all the appeal of a Putumayo reggae sampler, Jimmy Cliff’s Rebirth not only fails to live up to it’s title, but fails to offer us anything we haven’t heard before. The simple fact of the matter is that while it’s composed and styled in the form of reggae, it rings hollow to real reggae fans.